Following a buzz-generating run on the festival circuit earlier in the year, ‘Passages’—the latest keenly observed drama from director Ira Sachs—arrives at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this week, before its nationwide release in September. Centred around three spectacular performances, the film takes an ice-cold scalpel to the knotty and complex heart of modern relationships.
Franz Rogowski is Tomas, an impulsive and self-obsessed, control-freak filmmaker, who we first meet on the final day of shooting his latest film. He is married to Martin (Ben Wishaw), and the pair live and work together in Paris. At the wrap party, Tomas wants to dance, but Martin is too tired. An alternative dance partner presents herself in the shape of Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a friend of someone in the crew, who Tomas just met at the bar. The chemistry between them is immediately off the charts. After Martin goes home, Tomas and Agathe go home together.
When Tomas rocks up the next morning, he almost proudly declares that he slept with a woman last night, and wants to talk about it with Martin. Though Sachs never makes it explicitly clear what the boundaries of their relationship might be, Tomas’s narcissistic desire to brazenly pursue this new avenue of pleasure—and his expectation that his husband should be supportive of it—is too much for the eternally patient and understanding Martin to take.
Brilliantly written by Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias, and fascinatingly portrayed by Rogowski, Tomas is surely a contender for the most odious main character in a film this year. Utterly reckless with the feelings of those he claims to love, he is charming and magnetic, but toxic and manipulative too. Slithering between Martin and Agathe, always on the search for the warmer bed, the more docile partner. There’s an almost childlike petulance to Tomas, unable to see past his own capricious desires, and witness the damage he is unleashing.
Sachs deftly and economically paints a vivid portrait of these people and their relationships. How he frames each shot, and positions the actors in the frame expresses more than any line of dialogue could. So much of the film’s power comes from what it doesn’t show us, withholding the scenes that a more conventional narrative would focus on. There is no fiery confrontation between the aggrieved spouse and the new lover. When they do meet in the final act, it’s a quietly devastating moment. Exarchopoulos and Wishaw are incredible.
A word of caution to the dullards out there who are incapable of processing art meant for an adult audience. If you find yourself triggered by nudity, on-screen sex, and main characters who aren’t nice and/or relatable, then this one ain’t for you I’m afraid. For the rest of us however, ‘Passages’ is a sexy, seductive, brutally funny, and emotionally bruising good time at the flicks. Watching these bright, beautiful idiots putting each other through hell is an absolute delight.