Sunday, November 28EPS 95, EPFO, JOB NEWS

An intriguing period drama with top-notch performances

STORY: Based on a 1929 novel with the same name, ‘Passing’ is about two black women, who are childhood friends, but living starkly different realities despite their ethnic similarities. Years later, their chance reunion changes the course of their lives.

REVIEW: ‘Passing’ – a casual word that is used for people milling around us has a whole new meaning here in Rebecca Hall’s debut directorial. It refers to African-American women with lighter skin, ‘passing off’ as White in prohibition-era New York. A time when the blacks had to face rampant discrimination and restrict themselves to ghettos. The fact that is subtly yet effectively established in the film’s opening scene. The prejudice and precariousness of being black in those days is then slowly unraveled through a carefully constructed narrative. It focuses on the two central characters Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga), whose chance encounter with each other, sets the stage for a confrontation of their deep rooted insecurities.

While Irene feels she is satisfied living with her husband Brian (André Holland) in Harlem – an all-black neighbourhood, she also envies Clare’s vivacious and free-spirited personality. Meanwhile, Clare hates the fact that she has to live a lie as a White woman and misses Irene’s seemingly complete life, marked by a loving husband, community gatherings and bridge nights. The story gets more intriguing when their worlds collide. And Clare’s constant need to get her life back while trying to maintain her current status as a white woman, throws up interesting challenges and confrontations.

Director and screenplay writer Rebecca Hall keeps us engaged, despite a slow-burn execution that never feels overtly dramatic or manufactured. The performances are organic and so is the 1920s setup of an America that is peaceful and resilient on the face of it, but sitting on a ticking time bomb of a civilian strife, fueled by racism. All the actors do a fine job, especially the two women, Tessa and Ruth, who live their characters’ complexities and insecurities, beautifully. André Holland provides good support. The story revolves around only a few characters and doesn’t go beyond a set geographical boundary, but attempts to depict a broader issue in a much sanitized manner. Due to its short runtime, the film never becomes a drag. Although, we’re not sure if shooting the entire film in 4:3 aspect ratio in black and white was the best idea.

All in all, ‘Passing’ flows like an interesting page-turner, telling you a story, you may already know, but with conviction that keeps you hooked.

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