THE STORY – In contemporary Paris, German filmmaker Tomas (Franz Rogowski) embraces his sexuality through a torrid love affair with a young woman named Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos), an impulse that blurs the lines which define his relationship with his husband, Martin (Ben Whishaw). When Martin begins an extramarital affair of his own, he successfully gains back his husband’s attention while simultaneously unearthing Tomas’ jealousy. Grappling with contradicting emotions, Tomas must either embrace the confines of his marriage or come to terms with the relationship having run its course.
THE CAST – Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw & Adèle Exarchopoulos
THE TEAM – Ira Sachs (Director/Writer) & Mauricio Zacharias (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 91 Minutes
Ira Sachs has clearly never been interested in portraying accessible, predictable human experiences. He particularly revels in exploring people who act in a specifically uncinematic way that’s far from palatable or even understandable but is undeniably compelling. His latest film, “Passages,” looks into characters and decisions that many viewers may find unsympathetic or downright bad. Still, in doing so, he allows audiences to examine how they judge human interactions and relationships, particularly when they don’t follow the expectations established by film.
Tomas (Franz Rogowski) and Martin (Ben Whishaw) are a married couple living in Paris. Acting on his impulses one evening, Tomas sleeps with a young woman named Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos) after a wrap party for his latest film. While Martin initially mostly understands Tomas’ exploration, things begin to go awry when deeper feelings enter the equation.
The film opens with Tomas directing his latest film. He gives actors specific blocking instructions in a way that feels hyper-specific and only leads to him making himself frustrated. This proves to be a telling look into how Tomas wishes to move through his life: he clearly wants to build and ultimately control the world around him as he wishes it to be, without necessarily thinking about how others will react to his choices or if they’ll even understand. He’s a tricky character, and the things he does and doesn’t do throughout the film are sure to make him a villain in the eyes of most viewers. But Sachs and Rogowski, along with co-writer Mauricio Zacharias, work together to craft a fascinating character who’s never painted as outright malicious, even when acting in a borderline sociopathic way. As he expresses in a devastating emotional moment, he’s confused about what he wants and needs, which everyone watching has certainly felt at some point in their lives. The film is non-judgmental, leaving it to audiences to make up their minds about Tomas.
Rogowski’s performance is essential in keeping the audience from becoming exhausted by his poor decision-making; he’s raw and impulsive, and it’s clear why so many other characters are attracted to him. As his husband Martin, Whishaw is sympathetic but never pathetic. It would’ve been so easy for his character to come across as a kicked puppy, whimpering and whining after every one of Tomas’ upsetting choices. But, Whishaw smartly stands his ground in some of the film’s most difficult moments, acting as a worthy, headstrong foil to Rogowski’s hasty character. In addition, Exarchopoulos delivers an assured performance as Agathe. Unfortunately, her character’s interiority is explored at a different level of depth than Tomas and Martin’s, owing to the film’s focus on the two men (particularly Tomas).
In both the anthropological and the most literal sense of the word, “Passages” is queer. Obviously, it involves a same-sex male couple, but it’s also utterly uninterested in miring itself in the expected beats of most romantic dramas. In their screenplay, Sachs and Zacharias wisely skip the predictable conversations about characters’ sexual identities and relationship statuses in a way that feels specifically queer. The characters, and therefore the film itself, aren’t weighed down by heteronormative expectations and unspoken rules. But that doesn’t mean they can act unthinkingly without hurting those around them. An open mind is still capable of being hurt. “Passages” is a beautifully uninhibited exploration of the illogical ways of the heart that doesn’t offer any easy answers, and it’s Ira Sachs’ best film yet.