Passing: Netflix’s intoxicating and uplifting monochrome masterpiece
Passing (13+, 99mins) Directed by Rebecca Hall *****
Desperate to find a certain book for her youngest son’s birthday, Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) has ventured far from her neighborhood in Harlem.
But as she strikes again, withered by the heat of a sweltering summer day in New York City and the glare she’s sure to receive from unfamiliar faces around her, the mother-of-two decides to hail a taxi.
Her immediate, polite suggestion that it’s the perfect day for âDrayton teaâ is a temptation Irene just can’t resist. However, as she sips her drink, feeling more and more nervous that she is out of place, she sees a luminous woman staring straight at her.
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Before Irene had time to act on her instant urge to run away, this stunning figure walked around and started calling her by a name she hadn’t heard in a long time, ” Reenie â.
“It must have been at least 12 years,” says the woman she knew as her beloved classmate Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga), “I’ve thought of you so often.”
Still trying to figure out how so cheeky Clare can be, with her light locks, while she has her own hat tight to hide her dark hair, Irene jumps at the chance to continue their conversation in a more private place – Clare’s hotel room.
Revealing that she is in town with her banker husband as he goes about his business, Clare regales Irene with stories about her life in Chicago, insisting that they celebrate their reunion with “the most beautiful cakes and a pitcher of iced tea in champagne flutes “. But, before they can even sip a drop, Clare’s husband John Bellew (Alexander Skarsgard) arrives.
Initially charmed, Irene becomes concerned when John teases his wife about how she seems to “get darker and darker”, before revealing his very offensive pet name to her. Hastily apologizing for leaving, Irene is shaken by the meeting.
However, as she embarks on her charity work and hosts an upcoming ball, a letter from Clare arrives, lamenting her “pale life” and begging Irene for another date. When the latter chooses not to answer it, Clare shocks her by simply showing up at her door unexpectedly.
Shot in wonderful monochrome (a masterstroke considering the subject) and amazingly lit by cinematographer Eduard Grau (A single man), Who passed is an intoxicating, gripping and thought-provoking adaptation of the 1929 short story of the same name by Nella Larsen.
Newbie writer-director Rebecca Hall (an Englishwoman best known as an actress in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The night house and Godzilla vs. Kong, but whose opera singer mother has African-American ancestors) does a magnificent job creating a sense of space and place, visually demonstrating how a fair-skinned African American woman could switch between various “societies” From the 1920s and keep the viewer guessing where the gnarly tale might lead. Yes, the story itself isn’t black and white either, taking plenty of twists and turns and heading into an unforgettable finale that will linger and leave a mark.
Devonte Hynes’ jazz soundtrack also adds a lot to the atmosphere, but these are Thompson’s performances (Thor: Ragnarok) and Negga (Magnet) that really sell the story. The latter portrays the almost bipolar nature of the charismatic Clare (she wins all over Irene’s house with her charms, while also expressing jealousy towards Irene’s safe and secure existence) with convincing effect, while the former is simply beautiful as a woman forced to face her own fears and worried about the kind of world she is raising her sons in.
At the end, Who passed is simply a breathtaking slice of cinema, a powerful example of the power of combining images and performance.
Who passed is now available to stream on Netflix.