In the United States in the 1920s, a fair-skinned black woman masqueraded as a white woman. His reunion with a childhood friend will turn the lives of the two women upside down. This film by Rebecca Hall is a marvel that questions being and appearing.
The choice of black and white cultivates ambiguity and perfect nuances to approach the subject of this film. In “Passing, it is a question of Passing. In the United States, during segregation, some fair-skinned blacks pretended to be white to have more freedom, more social opportunities, or to be free from racism.
A Sumptuous First
“Passing” is the directorial debut of actress Rebecca Hall, notably in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” by Woody Allen. And it’s a remarkable success, impressive for a first film, both in substance and in form. The photo, in particular, is magnificent.
We are in New York in the 1920s. After a shopping spree, Irene stumbles upon a childhood friend lost to sight for fifteen years in a tea room after a shopping spree. She recognizes her by her laughter. Because for the rest, Claire has changed a lot. Blonde hair, heavy makeup, and here she is, white. We quickly understand where the discomfort of this reunion scene comes from: both have fair skin. Irene, too, that day, passed herself off as a White to enter certain shops. But Claire does it all the time. She is married to a man who does not know she is black (and who is openly racist), she has cut ties with her family, she lives in lies within the white elite.
The Ending With Poisonous Friendship
This meeting will turn the lives of the two women upside down. Irene feels insulted by the behavior of her former friend. Claire envies Irene her life without pretense. A poisonous friendship will be born, made of admiration and jealousy. Claire wants to reconnect with her past and begins to return to the black quarter of Harlem.
Rebecca Hall delicately tackles the problematic themes of racism and self-hatred. Shame. Being and appearing. It is about betrayal, adaptation, renunciation. I thought a lot about this novel that Philippe Roth also explored in “the task” while watching the film.
The cast is impeccable, Ruth Negga and Tessa Thomson in the first two roles. This deeply memorable film is an adaptation of a novel by Nella Larsen. But it also resonates with the director’s family history. Because Rebecca Hall’s grandfather, who was of mixed race, was posing himself as a white man. This story was taboo in her family; Rebecca Hall learned about it very late. This makes his work even more powerful.