“We’re all passing for something or other, aren’t we?”Irene
Adapted from a novella by Nella Larsen, Passing is a simple story evocatively elevated by through nuanced parallels and skilful use of cinematic language belying the fact that this is actress Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut. The overt theme is that of racial identity and the ability for lighter-skinned coloured people to “pass” for white, but Passing is also about identity more generally and the way in which it affects our social interactions and contentment. The primary purpose of shooting in black and white is its alteration of how we perceive skin tone, but its corollary effect fits Hall’s description of the film itself “passing” as being from another era, brimming with the style of 1930s and noir cinema including the now-rare Academy ratio, but maintaining its own identity through anachronistic use of anamorphic lenses that provide a wider field of view and pleasing oval bokeh. The best use of the extra frame height is in making the Harlem townhouses loom over figures on the street. Passing‘s reserved and delicate approach (it would meet the era’s Hays Code) dulls its emotional impact, resulting in an exploration of race that is more quietly thoughtful than deeply moving.
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