Passing (2021)

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Passing.

“Rot! Who’s satisfied being anything?”

Passing follows a black woman Irene (Tessa Thompson) in 1920s New York City, who has her world rocked and turned upside down when her path crosses with that of a childhood friend, Clare (Ruth Negga) who’s passing as white.

Theydies and Gentlethems behold… cinema… in the form of Rebecca Hall’s “Passing”, a stunning piece of film about two complicated black women portrayed by Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga in career best performances that are so compelling and nuanced. A delicate film about racism and the tension surrounding these two women as they repress themselves in order to survive. This repression however is a breeding ground for pain and torment but makes for one stunner of a film.

There’s a certain energy in the film’s code, a nervous like energy and it feeds great into the tension. The film is set in 1920s New York City and it deals with racism, racial identity in such a smooth and delicate way that it almost feels like a dance. The heaviness of the material is still there, you feel it and it’s weight, plus this nervous energy doesn’t help one bit, but Rebecca Hall’s film doesn’t not overwhelm or underwhelm.

The scoring and cinematography stir up emotions as they meant to, the black and white images are so well crafted and framed, they brilliantly add to the ambiguity at play within the film. I can’t help but laud Rebecca on this choice to use black and white. The score transports us to 1920’s New York, city of the future they say, but there’s that tension and nervousness in the currents of the sound and score which undercuts the otherwise jazzy musical atmosphere of the period.

The film also does this fantastic thing with mirrors, and I think it works metaphorically because one can’t really hide our true reflections right?

One of the many magnificent aspects of “Passing” is the way in which Rebecca Hall was able to capture the tension, and fear within the characters, rather in Irene, a fear of being found out, caught and exposed. We get the sense that the stakes are high, and Rebecca is then able to express that very same fear into the frame by using camera angles and her sound to heighten the fear, and it seeps into us the audience.

I think those who find this film underwhelming is because the film doesn’t lean into the black trauma as we’d come to expect in films that deal with racism and racial identity, what “Passing” does is subtle and magnificent, but it never downplays or tone down the seriousness of the subject matter and I think that’s wonderful film-making.

Overall, “Passing” is a fantastic film that’s very gentle despite it tackling a very heavy subject matter like racial identity, though it being a period piece the film’s themes of identity and race are still very much relevant in this day and age. And I love films that make me gasp in their final moments or so and this made me gasp.