VIFF Centre Screening

The Jazz Age. Irene (Tessa Thompson) is surprised to bump into Clare (Ruth Negga), an old childhood friend, in downtown Manhattan. While Irene is living relatively comfortably married to a Harlem doctor (Andre Holland), glamorous Clare is living the high life. Her husband is a wealthy businessman, and white. He believes she is too. "Passing" has brought her wealth and privilege but she’s also lonely, cut off from family, friends and her community. That’s how she comes to latch on to Irene, spending more and more time at her home, befriending her children, charming her husband. Irene can’t help thinking, what would happen if Clare’s husband discovered the truth about his wife?

Adapting Nella Larson’s 1920s novella, actor-turned-director Rebecca Hall (who is of mixed racial parentage herself) has fashioned a crisp, piquant tale that’s not only about racial identity, but also about desire, jealousy, gender and class. Handsomely photographed in black and white - an aesthetic choice that evokes the period immediately - the movie has a calm, polished veneer, augmented by Devonté Hynes’ jazz piano score… yet this dreamy, literary vibe gradually curdles into something subtly insinuating and suspenseful. There’s a lot going on under the skin.

"A seductive, scary dream of Harlem in the 1920s… Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of the Harlem Renaissance novel by Nella Larsen, is a subtle, somewhat mannered meditation on race, identity and desire, shot in evocative black and white and anchored by the intriguing lead performances of Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as childhood friends who re-encounter each other as grown women living on opposite sides of the color line." AO Scott, New York Times

"Hall’s beautiful, sharp and intelligent film… This is a somber story, but it’s filled with unusual light… If you are attuned to this unusually elusive wavelength, there is plenty of dramatic tension here." Jessica Kiang, Variety

"Formidable… simmers with a homoerotic subtext that eventually gives way to jealousy and ruin." Kate Erbland, Indiewire

Director Icon Director
Rebecca Hall

Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård, Bill Camp, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Gbenga Akinnagbe
Executive Producer Michael Y. Chow, Lauren Dark, Chaz Ebert, David Gendron, Arcadiy Golubovich, Erika Hampson, Ali Jazayeri, Yvonne Huff, Kevin M. Lin, Christopher C. Liu, Oren Moverman, Dori A. Rath, Joseph Restaino, Angela Robinson, Brenda Robinson
Producer Nina Yang Bongiovi, Rebecca Hall, Margot Hand, Forest Whitaker
Screenwriter Rebecca Hall
Cinematographer Eduard Grau
Editor Sabine Hoffman
Music Devonté Hynes
USA 2021 98 min. 19+ Trailer


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