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Passages ★★★★★



Director: Ira Sachs

Cast: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adèle Exarchopoulos

Released: 1st September 2023 (UK cinemas)

‘Why is the glass empty?’ an exasperated Franz Rogowski cries in the opening salvo. A distinct lack of substance in the cup mirrored his emptiness internally. Almost wrung out from the artistry that he firmly believes pours out of him. Berating actors on staircases from below about the finer details of a scene, when it could just be him who needs to come down from his own ‘ivory tower’ and redefine his character.

This obscene level of self-involvement drives Ira Sach’s latest triumph, Passages. It is a profoundly penetrative and emotionally explicit love triangle that lets the sexual entanglements of its protagonists do the talking.

Tomas (Rogowski) furiously cycles the streets of Paris aimlessly. Somewhat oblivious, he’s against the clock in saving his ailing marriage to an all too forgiving Martin (Ben Whishaw), selfishly pursuing a ‘rush’ that has until now proved elusive. For a man who stresses patience from others, his erratic demeanour makes for a compelling contradiction.

He is revelling in the frivolities upon completion of his latest project. The exhaustion in Martin’s bar-leaning manner one evening juxtaposes with the carefree spirit of Tomas, seizing the opportunity to dance the night away with the alluring Agathe (Adele Exarchopoulos). A schoolteacher in her own right. She may need a master’s in psychology to fully grapple with Tomas’ justification of his actions, considering her a means to ‘make him beautiful’ as a piping hot affair ensues.

The words uttered by these characters fail them. It’s the transfixing visual language that director Sachs sculpts here, which correctly articulates the complexities of their emotional state. The inquisitive contorting of their bodies in a messy embrace mirrors their day-to-day lives as they converge.

In one instance, deliberately framing Tomas as a direct block to Martin on the bed whilst they speak candidly. A faceless figure. A ‘ghosting’ in a long-term relationship that has begun to ring hollow. Only for Martin to reassert himself in a later erotically charged sequence with Tomas. Sachs tenderly scales the camera down to admire the backbone that has been realigned, thrusting themselves back into a safe space where they feel desired again, irrespective of how Tomas perceives their exchange.

Sachs’ deft use of setting further enhances its visual storytelling’s richness. A wicker basket that you would usually associate with children, instead full to the brim with coals. Seemingly skewering these heteronormative expectations, reinterpreted through a queer lens as a source of potential ‘rebirth’ for Tomas and Martin as they look to reignite the fire. Only to ominously tease the escalating tension in this menage a trois.

Tomas is crestfallen at the feet of a non-plussed Agathe in the taut school corridors. It is an ideal space to have his emotional immaturity on full display, forced into a walk of shame through a room full of gym equipment, reluctant to accept people will stop jumping through hoops for him. Just like the narcissistic artist at its core, every fine detail feels deliberate in its purpose.

Avoiding lazy melodramatics, a subtle cynicism and shyness initially ran through Adele Exarchopoulos’ Agathe in their investment in Tomas. Yet a steely tenacity emerges as she navigates this chaotic affair, epitomised by an eventual stare-down with Martin. His quiet devastation, coupled with exhaustion from grappling with the impulses of his husband, is sketched superbly by Ben Whishaw and somehow upstaged by the reckless abandon and subterfuge of Franz Rogowski’s Tomas. Whether it is admiration through art or via his real-world connections, it seems nearly impossible to fully satisfy. Yet, for all his grotesque excesses, there’s a pain Rogowski instils in him that leaves you curious to dig deeper, reinforcing what a sensational talent he is.

A stimulating, sensual delve into the fleeting fluidity of modern-day attraction. Ira Sach’s Passages is a beautiful disaster you can’t peel your eyes away from.

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