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Sundance 2021: “Passing”


Rating: 5 out of 5.

Many famous actors are now turning into directors. Most of them are quite successful such as Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Olivia Wilde, Robin Wright, and now, Rebecca Hall. If you compare the above-mentioned names, I think Rebecca Hall has beaten all of them by directing the truly masterful portrayal of the collapse of a carefully constructed life based on lies.

Based on Harlem Renaissance’s novel called “Passing”, the film follows two women, Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) and Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga), as they meet each other after many years, in a New York city’s hotel, Drayton. They both sit at the dining table as they look around but don`t see each other yet. But as soon as Clare notices Irene, their acquaintance begins again. Despite both being African American, because of the color of their skin, they can “pass” for whites. While Irene is married to a black man, Kendry chose to live life on the opposite side of the color line.

Shot in black and white, the film, as soon as it opens, takes us to the Golden Era of Hollywood in the best sense possible. In fact, it looks like it was film back then by someone like William Selznick. Irene is at the store when she picks up a package dropped by an elderly white woman. She does so effortlessly, with such ease, a woman graciously looked at her and said, “What a nice lady.” However, it was the store where people of color were not allowed to enter. Same goes to Kendry, who, sitting at the hotel’s restaurant, does not know that soon a life-changing acquaintance will resume, changing the lives and perspectives of the two women forever.

It would be a whole different film if Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson weren’t cast in it. It’s hard to imagine who else would be able to deliver such great performances as the on-screen chemistry between the two is astounding. From start to end, the film is able to transport you straight into the painful era when racial injustice was at a tipping point. People of color would get killed for entering a store or restaurant where only whites are allowed.

As for the direction, it is so sublime, I have nothing negative to say. Whether it’s the cinematography, score or acting, everything is top-notch. But it’s the concept that will remind you of “Imitation of Life”, in which there’s high contrast in biracial issues, the fear of being rejected or punished is so high that those who had lighter color skin would be willing to sacrifice their entire family to pass for “whites.” Indeed, it’s a sad and heartbreaking story. Unfortunately, it’s something we already know has happened in real life way too many times and we wish weren’t reminded of. But we need to and we have to. And should never forget if we want this to never happen again.

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  1. Sundance 2021: “Passing” – Kisafilms.com

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