What is the story about?
The film is an account of what happens when a mixed-race woman, Irene, happens to bump into Clare, a mixed-race friend who passes off as a White woman, and the events that follow.
How much of our lives do we spend in keeping up appearances? Watching actor Rebecca Hall's directorial effort Passing made me stop for a bit and think of this. Based on Nella Larsen's masterful novel, the film tries to take us into a world where the binaries between Black and White are a constant minefield for mixed-race women. Some, like Irene, stay content in their Black heritage, while more ambitious ones, like Clare, pass off as "white". The usage of black-and-white cinematography is a masterstroke, because the interactions and setups in this movie are deliberately slow and delicate, that even the complexion of the characters becomes an irrelevant point in its "relevance".
And yet, frustratingly, Passing grates on your nerves after a point because of its approach. The languid screenplay tells you about Clare's machinations to pass off as White in a White crowd, while revelling in her Blackness in more familiar settings. But she remains a closed book as a woman, and you are never sure until the end what her agenda is. Irene's petulance at Clare's approach is well-fleshed out, but you constantly get the feeling she is also unsure as to how to feel towards Clare. The climax or ending seems very abrupt compared to the rest of the film, and doesn't really satisfy. Passing is a complex, layered and delicate drama on Blackness and Whiteness, but I honestly kept wishing it went even deeper.
Ruth Negga is in fine form as the effervescent social butterfly Clare, who is a bundle of contradictions. However, thanks to the screenplay, she remains an enigma till the very end. Tessa Thompson is earnest as Irene, who is as unsure as the audience on how to respond to Clare's flitting between identities. Alexander Skarsgard is menacing as Clare's husband John, while Andre Holland is all right as Irene's husband Brian.
Music & Other Departments
The black-and-white cinematography lends the delicate screenplay its flavour, while the jazz-heavy background score lends a sense of languor to the film.
The performances are great.
The screenplay is very slow and layered, and may not appeal to people looking for more entertaining fare.
Did I enjoy it?
Do I recommend it?
Yes. But you might not like it if slow-burning cerebral films with a message aren't your cup of tea.