Sundance Film Festival: ‘Passing’ Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Passing is a mesmerizing and highly stylized film for Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut. The black-and-white aesthetic combined with such beautiful framing takes you back into an old Hollywood style. Hall brings such richness within the frame, there are interesting choices made from scene to scene, that left me rather impressed with her debut. The story is also incredibly layered as it dives deep into conversations about race, love and social hierarchy.

It is categorized as a psychological thriller but it’s so much more than that. We all have our own secrets, that we keep to ourselves but are we really living our truth or are we just existing? On a beautiful, hot summer day in New York, Irene (Tessa Thompson) heads to the Dayton Hotel’s tea room. As she sits at her table, she is taken by this beautiful blond woman sitting across from her. The way Hall moved the camera and switched the pov from Irene, to Claire (Ruth Negga) was one of the many great choices she made. From that moment on, I was hooked.

Irene and Claire rekindled their friendship, only to be consumed by the thought of each other. Thompson and Negga had wonderful chemistry. Their relationship was perfectly balanced because they were total opposites. They kept parts of themselves hidden, as if they were passing for something they’re not. The idea of hiding your sexuality or your emotions is difficult to process and you may not even realize you’re doing it. As the film goes on, Irene’s obsession with Claire got worse and the jealousy came out. It was almost like, if Irene couldn’t get the attention from Claire, then no one could.

Passing covers so many bases and has dialogue that highlights all those important issues. Sure, it grazes the surface of each but humans are complex and that is why it works. People have so many different parts of themselves that they also hide. So to dabble in all these conversations about race, sexuality, social status and finances didn’t seem forced at all. It actually flows quite nicely because of the placements of certain conversations.

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