Netflix Drama “Passing” One of Year’s Most Audacious Debuts

This topical directorial debut and central duo of female performances will undoubtedly turn heads. Rebecca Hall’s delicate drama Passing (B) is a puzzle-box of ambiguity shot in 4:3 aspect ratio and overexposed, over saturated monochrome. Unlike some other movies shot in black and white simply to augment prestige factor especially in Oscar season, the cinematography here actually factors in heavily to a story about ideas, ideologies, identity and insecurity and especially framing the interior conflicts boxing these female characters into specific stations in life. In 1920s New York City, a Black woman Irene played by Tessa Thompson finds her world upended when her life becomes intertwined with former childhood friend Clare, portrayed by Ruth Negga, whose fair skin and blond hair helps her maintain a lifestyle “passing” as white. While Irene identifies as African-American and is married to a black doctor played by André Holland, Clare is wed to a wealthy and very racist white man portrayed by Alexander Skarsgård. Hall employs a near stage play environment within her commanding cinematic lens to present mounting tensions between the characters. At times the austere direction keeps viewers at a slight distance or surface level obscuring some underdeveloped sub-themes, but Hall never loses sight of her keen observations as she wields this curious lens on race and class. It’s a slow burn; this film makes Carol look like a potboiler. Thompson and Negga are towering in their nuanced performances, and Hall at the helm has accomplished quite a feat in her audacious first film.

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