Star Rating:


Director: Ira Sachs

Actors: Ben Whishaw, Franz Rogowski, Adéle Exarchopoulos

Release Date: Friday 1st September 2023

Genre(s): Drama, Romance

Running time: 92 minutes

Tomas (Franz Rogowski) lives a bohemian lifestyle as a filmmaker in Paris with his husband Martin (Ben Whishaw), and finds himself sleeping with Agathe (Adéle Exarchopolous) after a wrap party for his latest film. As Tomas finds himself drawn to Agathe, Martin moves on with his life and finds love elsewhere. However, Tomas soon finds himself drifting back towards Martin, and tries to navigate his feelings for them both...

The opening scene of 'Passages' sees Franz Rogowski's character blocking out a scene in a nightclub, picking and pointing out minutiae in the scene from extras, critiquing every aspect of his actor's performance, and rolling over the scene again and again until he's happy. Later, he bails out of the wrap party in order to go to the editing suite. Like many French films, including the excellent 'One Fine Morning', there's such a sense of character and believability in 'Passages' that heightens the intimacy. You are seeing into these people's minds and all of the foibles, all of the awkwardness, all of the glimmers of passion and lust, are all completely visible.

Much ink has been spilt about the sex scenes in 'Passages', resulting in a NC-17 rating in the US. Here in Ireland, however, it's rated 16. To be clear, none of the scenes are particularly explicit or graphic in nature - but there is a level of clarity in them that's revealing and unlike most romantic dramas. You can clearly see the motivations of each character in them - some are done forensically, as one person servicing another with little enjoyment of their own. Others are carried in a wave of neediness and regret. As a result, where other directors might cut away to the aftermath, director Ira Sachs instead leaves the camera rolling to capture all of the nuances and intricacies of the physical performance of each actor.

Franz Rogowski is the middle of the trio, bouncing back and forth between Ben Whishaw and Adéle Exarchopolous throughout the movie. In one, there is comfort and familiarity, a kind of openness that only comes from years spent with someone. Yet, when he runs off with Adéle Exarchopolous, it's at first new and exciting, but then settles into something resembling an accelerated form of domesticity that he then begins to reject. In truth, he doesn't seem to know what he wants other than the rejection of one leads him to another. Ben Whishaw, meanwhile, is at first perceived to be clinical and almost unfeeling about his husband's infidelity. You might even wonder initially if they're in an open marriage - given how blasé he seemed to treat it, and how readily the other confessed. Yet, later, it becomes clear just how wounded Ben Whishaw's character was, and how it ultimately comes to a place resembling acceptance before it's gone again.

Strangely, Adéle Exarchopolous' character is only defined in broad terms. She's a teacher, surrounded by children, yet has a sort of detached sense of herself. Even in a particularly awkward scene with her on-screen parents, she says quite little and instead, Franz Rogowski's character dominates and asserts the tenor of the conversation. It's only towards the end of the movie, however, that we begin to understand she herself feels the same way. As she remarks to Ben Whishaw's character, she feels herself almost disappearing between the two of them.

For all of the romantic chaos that runs through 'Passages', Ira Sachs keeps the focus on the characters and allows the story to write itself in its own fashion. The scenes are staged in such a naturalistic way, yet done in such a way that there's an unbelievable clarity to them. If there's a complaint to be made, it's that 'Passages' almost seems to resolve itself in such a way that it's never nearly as satisfying as everything that's led up to that point. It's not that it's reinforcing monogamy or rejecting heteronormative relationships, but rather 'Passages' ends itself by detangling the strings by simply cutting itself apart. Nevertheless, the story and the characters are the kind that stay with you long after the credits have rolled.