Sunday, September 15, 2013

TIFF 2013: Half of a Yellow Sun (Quite Good)

Half of a Yellow Sun is based on the book of the same title, the second film at this year's festival that I chose because I had enjoyed the book. It's the story of Biafra's brief independence from Nigeria, told through the lives of twin sisters and their husbands. The two women start the film as children of privilege, educated abroad, well-connected, wealthy and cultured and mixing with the right people. Olanna (Thandie Newton) takes up with Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who sympathizes with the revolutionaries, while her sister Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) runs her father's businesses and stays close to power. We see the initial glow of Nigeria's independence fade, and the erosion of prosperity and peace throughout the country parallels the steady degradation of Olanna and Odenigbo's living arrangements, as they flee town after town as Biafran independence is proclaimed and the war with Nigeria goes badly.

The film goes lightly on the violence of war, showing a few brutal scenes but on the whole keeping the blood in the background as it focuses on the characters and how their lives are affected. The performances are strong, and the director does a great job of taking us down the path from happiness and prosperity to chaos. Not a cheerful movie, but it tells an important story strongly.

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