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'Passages' Review

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August 4, 2023
Hunter Friesen
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Passages opens with Tomas (Franz Rogowski), a German filmmaker living in Paris, working on the set of his next film. It’s immediately apparent that he’s a control freak… and an asshole. He’s critical of everything that’s going on, from the position of his actor’s arms as he walks down the stairs to the amount of wine in an extra’s glass. He probably thinks of himself as Stanley Kubrick, except there isn’t enough brilliance to make up for the callousness. That attitude on the set doesn’t take a break once he goes home to his husband Martin (Ben Whishaw). 

The couple go to the film’s wrap party at a dance club. Being the more introverted one, Martin goes home early, leaving Tomas to his own devices. He crosses paths with Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos) on the dance floor, and the two eventually go home together to have sex. Rebuking the natural secrecy of an affair in an effort to quench his desire for control, Tomas tells Martin all about it the next morning. Tomas wants the best of both worlds: to be in a steady marriage with Martin and to have an exciting new fling with a woman. These three characters are now intertwined, yet it’s obvious only one of them is pulling the strings.

Similar to his 2014 film Love is Strange, writer/director Ira Sachs (co-writing with his regular partner Mauricio Zacharias) delves into the thorniness of longstanding relationships, and how there isn’t a clear-cut way to get through it. Tomas thinks he can get what he wants, yet it seems he actually doesn’t know what he wants in the first place. He says “I love you” and engages in sex when it works for him, and never seems to have the ability or desire to understand the other party in that transaction.

One of the main problems of the film is that it spends too much time spinning its wheels around this toxic trio. It eventually gets tiring to watch Tomas act selfishly and be begrudgingly forgiven by Martin or Agathe. Sure, that cycle may be a portal to connect with the victims, but it’s also not something wholly original. It’s not a coincidence that the best scene of the film is near the end where Martin and Agathe finally break the circle and sit down to talk directly.

Whishaw and Exarchopoulos are both calm and collected throughout much of the film. They each are trying to convince themselves that this new reality can work, but it’s clear no one is coming out better than they used to be. And even in his cruelty, Rogowski is captivating, showing just enough promise to illustrate why he would be accepted into someone else’s life.

Filled with as much as explicit sex (although striking it with an NC-17 rating was a displeasing illustration of how the MPAA views homosexuality) as it has insight into complicated relationships, Passages is another worthwhile effort from the dependable Ira Sachs. It’s a ménage à trois for the modern age, mixing confrontation and carnality to perceptive results.

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