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Directed by Ira Sachs
Produced by Saïd Ben Saïd and Michel Merkt
Written by Mauricio Zacharias, Ira Sachs, and Arlette Langmann
With: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Erwan Kepoa Falé, Caroline Chaniolleau, Olivier Rabourdin, and William Nadylam
Cinematography: Josée Deshaies
Editing: Sophie Reine
Runtime: 91 min
Release Date: 06 October 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.66 : 1
Color: Color

I'm not usually a fan of movies in which the main character is a filmmaker, but Passages is an exception to the rule. The latest from Ira Sachs (Love Is Strange, Little Men, Frankie) stars Franz Rogowski as Tomas Freiburg, a German director based in Paris who has just finished shooting his latest movie. At the wrap party, he and his husband, Martin (Ben Whishaw), meet an attractive, free-spirited young schoolteacher named Agatha (Adèle Exarchopoulos). When the grumpy Martin leaves the party early, Tomas and Agatha dance the night away, head to Agatha's home for an after-party, and end up having sex. The next morning, Tomas wants to talk about this heterosexual encounter with his husband and how it has ignited a passion in him that's been missing in their relationship. But Martin has little interest in processing this. We get the distinct impression that while Tomas may not have had sex with a woman before, this type of occurrence and epiphany is not uncharacteristic of him.

We first meet Tomas in the film's opening scene, in which he is giving an actor horrendous direction as to how to descend a staircase and enter a bar. This scene tells us from the get-go what type of filmmaker Tomas is, and from there, we can make a number of assumptions as to what type of lover and partner he might be—a narcissistic one with shitty communication skills and a whole lot of energy that needs to be expressed. There's something dynamic and alluring about Tomas despite what a grubby, self-centered, myopic, emotionally infantile little shit he is. Thus, film director is an ideal profession for this character.

Passages captures the type of relationship dysfunctionality Sachs likes to explore. The film gets deep into the toxic circularity of a relationship that should end clean, but it will take many breakups and reconciliations before the emotional cores of all involved have been eroded past the point of no return. Everyone in Martin and Agatha's lives can see what a terrible romantic partner Tomas is. Agatha's parents (Caroline Chaniolleau and Olivier Rabourdin) spend a most uncomfortable dinner with him in the film's most hilarious scene, and an attractive, self-possessed author (Erwan Kepoa Falé) whom Martin becomes involved with while he and Tomas are broken up gives a perfect summation of Martin and Tomas's dynamic that articulates what all of us in the audience are thinking. But as maddeningly frustrating as Tomas's behaviors are, Passages is not a frustrating movie. We don't spend the whole running time angry at the characters for not just growing up and getting their acts together. Most of us have had a Tomas in our lives. Many of us have been in love with one. Hopefully, we were a bit younger than these folks when we went through our personal Tomas experience—my major complaint about this picture is that Wishaw's character's age makes him seem pathetic rather than sympathetic—but if you've been in a relationship like this, you know how hard it can be to break free.

Great sex can be a primary reason people stay in terrible relationships, and we can see how the love-making Tomas engages in with both partners acts as a double-edged sword. Passages is perhaps the best rebuke yet to the claim many Gen-Z moviegoers make that all depictions of sex in movies are gratuitous, unnecessary to the story, or even immoral. The sex is the story in Passages. Sex is the inciting incident; it's the direct cause of each narrative beat; it's how the stakes get raised; it's the clearest indicator of the different types of wants and needs these characters have. The explicit but never graphic depictions of gay and straight physicality are downright refreshing after twenty years of chased English-language cinema.

It's too bad Agatha is left so undeveloped. There's an interesting character here and a dynamic actress who could explore her well in a deeper, more intricate script. But Sachs doesn't seem as interested in what's going on in Agatha's mind as he is in what she wears. The costumes in this movie are really something. I honestly can't tell if costume designer Manon Lancerotto deserves an Oscar nomination or a reprimand for all the scene-stealing outfits in this picture. We almost don't need to hear Tomas speak to understand how he views himself based on his fashion choices, all of which Rogowski pulls off, literally and figuratively.

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Ira Sachs' latest, about a married gay narcissist who becomes involved with a young woman, captures the toxic circularity of dysfunctional relationships that require many breakups and reconciliations before the emotional cores of all involved have been eroded past the point of no return.