Ira Sachs has made a career making films about complicated adult relationships. He brings his latest puzzle, Passages, to Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) with a love triangle that threatens to tie itself in knots.
Passages tells the story of a gay married couple, Tomas (Franz Rogowski and Ben Whishaw) whose relationship irrevocably changes when one of them begins an affair with a woman (Adele Exarchopoulos). Far from the cautious two-sided marriage stories that aim to see both sides of every situation, Passages is unafraid of revealing ugly truths that most people hide from each other.
It is vulnerable, honest, and intensely sexual. But when awarded an NC-17 rating in America, the highest age rating in the Motion Picture Association, it is unsurprising that Passages is full of sex. But it’s not the clothes-ripping, sweat-dripping orgy that a high-age rating suggests. Every scene has an underlying ferocity, a sensuality that threatens to engulf everyone in its path. However, it’s also gentle in its understanding that intimacy is more than just sex.
“Rogowski looks at his scene partners like he is imagining what they would look like underneath him.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in Franz Rogowski’s performance as Tomas, who makes the impulsive decision one night that spawns the events of the film. Rogowski’s power is all in his eyes, he looks at his scene partners like he is imagining what they would look like underneath him.
His careless actions seem unbelievable each time as he bends to every desire that takes his fancy like it’s nothing. And yet, despite every betrayal, every heartbreak, every single stolen kiss, Tomas still seems to worm his way into our sympathies. Maybe it’s his childlike handling of the truth or his juvenile understanding of monogamy, but Tomas is the most lovable a**hole I have ever witnessed.
Long suffering partners Martin and Agathe beautifully balance Tomas’ wild nature. Played by Ben Whishaw and Adele Exarchopoulos, they both deliver delicate performances that seem to mirror the other. While different in gender, age, and personality, they share a hope that their relationship with Tomas may survive, however unrealistic. Director Ira Sachs does not rehearse before takes. From Whishaw and Exarchopoulo’s performances, we can see why. They seem to hear each gut-wrenching word for the very first time.
“The camera creates a form of intimacy without ever being touched.”
However, it is Sachs’ camera that is the true star of Passages. In moments of high intensity when usually we would have close-up shots of glaring eyes and flying spit, we are excluded. Right when we want to be a part of the action, Sachs chooses to obstruct the characters’ faces during fights, either only seeing one face or none at all. During a Q&A at EIFF with the director , Sachs mentioned how he wanted to leave the audience wanting more. He has succeeded beautifully by giving us a desire to see more. He has created a form of intimacy without ever being touched.
That’s not to say that we have a perfectly relatable love story on our hands. Passages is unattainable as it navigates a world of artists, writers, and film directors. The character’s dating pool could be the lobby of the Pulitzer prize offices. The only character that seems to exist in the real world is Agathe, but even she masquerades in creative circles. This doesn’t take away from the overall heartbreak Passages leaves you with. This will be someone’s story, it just isn’t mine.
Passages is a gorgeous depiction of three people leading with their hearts instead of their heads. It may be frustrating to watch them make the same mistakes again and again but it will be heartbreakingly familiar for anyone who has made a selfish decision, and anyone who paid for it.
Passages is out in the UK and Ireland 1 September 2023 and available to stream on MUBI soon.
EIFF runs from 18 – 23 August. for more of Brig’s coverage visit our website here.
Featured image credit: MUBI