Passing is a black-and-white drama written, directed and produced by actress Rebecca Hall in her feature-length directorial debut. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Nela Larsen from 1929, and the title signifies the actions of African-Americans who, at the time of racial segregation, due to their lighter skin color, managed to pass as whites. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, to hit Netflix servers on November 10th.
Passing movie review and plot
The plot follows Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson), a fair-skinned black woman who lives in Harlem and is married to Dr. Brian (Andre Holland). At the beginning of the film, he accidentally meets his childhood friend Claire (Ruth Nega), who is now passes as a white woman, she is married to a rich white man from Chicago when she turns out to openly despise black people, unaware of his wife’s racial background. Claire wants to renew the friendship, which Irene accepts, and their new relationship will change the lives of both of them.
The film was set in New York during the 1920s, when this metropolis hastily began to represent the liberal values on which the philosophy of the United States is based, and which even today fail to be fulfilled in practice. Our heroines are trapped in a society that even suggests passing because that process can be useful or necessary for the success or happiness of a certain person. The location of the plot and the way in which these different characters in the film are perceived bring with them ideas of segregation and a kind of prejudice that, in a way, themselves pass either as innocent or as naive.
Irene could easily pass as a white woman because of her skin color, but she would probably have to leave her current life if she decided, and her successful testing to see if she would passed as a white woman we see at the beginning of the story when she visits a luxury hotel. On the other hand, Claire cannot say certain things because the truth about her origin would ruin the life she built so hard, but because of nostalgia, she comes to Harlem more and more often to feel at home. For the two of them, the antipathy towards the outside world becomes increasingly difficult to ignore, and an additional problem with Irene is Claire’s presence, which becomes a source of uncertainty and tension.
The author stylistically successfully recreated the period using black and white technique, 4: 3 aspect ratio and a lot of jazz music. She created an original romantic mood that is gradually becoming more oppressive. Irene is in a one-sided conflict because she does not approve of denying Claire’s history and tacitly accepting her husband’s racism, but also the fact that Claire does not hide that she is ready to do anything to get what she wants. There are no easy or simple answers in this film, just as the final act does not change the result of the situation, regardless of whether it was a conscious choice or a random reflex.
The performances of the actresses are essential here because the material is performance-focused, i.e. much of the storytelling is focused on the acting performances. Ruth Nega gave her character a charming and deceptive energy, but in quieter moments we see a crush that suggests that her inner restlessness is getting stronger. Tessa Thompson blamed her Irene for her obvious resentment and jealousy of Claire, and her unspoken feelings were transformed into a kind of psychological confinement.
Passing is a polished reflection on how elections define and expose the leading problems of interracial society – a period of drama that puts us in the lives of two women struggling with issues of identity and affiliation. final rating: 6.5/10
Passing movie cast and characters
- Tessa Thompson as Irene “Reenie” Redfield
- Ruth Negga as Clare Bellew
- André Holland as Brian Redfield
- Bill Camp as Hugh Wentworth
- Alexander Skarsgård as John Bellew
- Gbenga Akinnagbe as Dave Freedland
- Antoinette Crowe-Legacy as Felise
- Ashley Ware Jenkins as Zu
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