Ira Sachs’s erotic drama Passages is a stunning film about the complexity of human relationships—gay, straight and in-between.
After completing his latest project, filmmaker Tomas (Franz Rogowski) impulsively begins a heated love affair with a young schoolteacher, Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos). For Tomas, the novelty of being with a woman is an exciting experience that he is eager to explore despite his marriage to Martin (Ben Whishaw). But when Martin begins his own affair, the mercurial Tomas refocuses his attentions on his husband. Set in contemporary Paris, Passages charts an escalating battle of desire between three people, where want is a constant and happiness is just out of reach.
The film pulls you in from the first scenes as we encounter Tomas’ egocentric drive, hunger for perfection, and new and thrilling experiences. On his film set he is part dictator, part temperamental child and his anxiety spills over into the wrap party where he accepts the attentions of Agathe. And so begins a chain of human interactions that connect with each other and illuminate the toxicity that is lurking beneath the surface of most relationships. Sachs exposes the fine line between intimacy and abuse and explores desire as an expression of what we really want, and how it can slip outside of the containers of orientation and gender.
As though to reflect the subterranean journeys of the characters, Paris has never looked so gritty and at times feels more like Berlin.
All the performances are nuanced and powerful. Blue Is the Warmest Color‘s Adèle Exarchopoulos is always a miracle of instinct; her embodiment of a hopeful young mother is devastating and balances vulnerability with strength. Ben Whishaw portrays a laconic super-empath who’s finally had enough (and delivers an unforgettable sex scene); and Franz Rogowski’s roguish Tomas is both infuriating and amusing as a whirling dervish of narcissism and need.
Sachs has created a totally original and compelling modern love story that takes the love triangle trope and spins it into something far beyond titillation and cliche; he finds something new to say about queerness, creativity, and the human condition of always wanting more—as an artist, as a partner, and as a parent.
Passages is now in theaters.
New Yorkers can enjoy Film At Lincoln Center showtimes, tickets here.