Passages – Film Review (Sundance 2023)

assages is the new film from Ira Sachs, who seemed to have fallen off of the cinematic map after a few poorly received films in the last decade. This should no doubt put him back in the conversation. The film was sold to MUBI, so is likely to reach a fairly wide but open-minded audience via its streaming platform. It’s a shame the title is incredibly bland.

Sachs did a appreciation for the Criterion edtion of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fox and His Friends, and this feels like his homage to the Enfant Terrible of New German Cinema. Franz Rogowski plays Tomas, a completely self-obsessed film director living in Paris. He who is married to artist Martin (Ben Whishaw), who is never enough for Tomas. One night at a gay club after the wrap party for his most recent film, Tomas meets Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and eventually they sleep together. He later rushes back home and tells his husband all about his sexual exploits, and whatever openness they had in their marriage turns sour for Martin. Is it because this time it’s a woman, or does he want to be monogamous? Tomas even says “You could say that you’re happy for me” when he relays his affair to his husband. The film ends up being this trainwreck of emotions for everybody involved, and nobody is going to get out of this intact.

Sachs is very intelligent, because he feels for all of his characters—and also lets them all be truly horrible people to each other, which is classic Fassbinder. Rogowski continues to be a powerhouse in everything he appears in. The comparisons to Joaquin Phoenix are justified, and not because they could almost play twin brothers. They both have a mixture of physicality and vulnerability. That is what you always want in an actor, but you rarely get both in a endless struggle with each other, which is what makes them so watchable. His descent into a bratty child at the end is a sight to behold, literally on his knees begging. It would be very easy to make him into a destructive monster, but through Sachs’ empathy for the character and Rogowski’s performance, Tomas becomes a more realistic character.

Exarchopoulos hasn’t quite had the same international career trajectory as Blue Is the Warmest Colour co-star Léa Seydoux, but seems content to appear in European arthouse fare. Both she and Rogowski have such screen presence that you can see why they have a natural lust for each other in the film. Whishaw has less to do, but he does have a great scene later with Exarchopoulos in which they both come to accept the collective damage they have received from Tomas. There is also an excruciating scene where Tomas meets her parents, and his own pride, ego and arrogance gets the better of him.

Overall, Passages is a memorable homage to Fassbinder and other European arthouse filmmakers from that era—there is a bit of Maurice Pialat in there too, for example. Two knock-out performances elevate some quibbles with the screenplay. but the film never outstays it welcome at 90 minutes. It’s a very modern romance that expertly looks at the messiness of lust vs. love. 


Ian Schultz


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