Unequivocally European in style, American director Ira Sachs’ latest feature Passages is an exploration of fluid sexuality and toxic dynamics within relationships. It chronicles the unfolding of a love triangle with a twist and raises questions on the blurred lines between love, desire and the need to have one’s emotional and physical needs fulfilled.
Tomas (Franz Rogowski) is an arrogant film director who has achieved success and stability in his career, as well as in his private life, in spite of his volatility. His colleagues and his husband Martin (Ben Whishaw) patiently handle his moods and tantrums, but Tomas’ tendency to follow his instincts regardless of consequences eventually proves destructive. When he meets and gets entangled with a woman named Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos) at a club, it appears to be a superficial fling prompted by the excitement of getting together with someone unexpected. However, the relationship soon turns serious and shakes up the lives of all involved. It seems to be love, but perhaps it’s just a way for Tomas to get the intense level of attention he craves and that is usually inherent to the early stages of a relationship.
Rogowski perfectly captures the protagonist’s narcissistic nature, which makes Tomas come alive but also makes him so unlikable that following his predictable antics and endless displays of immaturity eventually becomes a rather unpleasant experience, especially since he is the nucleus of the story and there are no subplots to soften the mood. Whishaw is excellent as the decent and reserved partner who balances between enabling Tomas’ questionable behaviours and trying to maintain a dignified attitude.
Passages is a character study that mostly feels realistic and poses some interesting questions about power, codependency and egocentricity within a relationship, but it doesn’t go very far beyond this. In spite of the strong performances by the leading trio, the story is not particularly innovative and it never really reaches the emotional depth one would expect. The attraction between Tomas and Agathe starts off abruptly and seems a little forced. Agathe’s character in general seems underwritten as her choices and impulses are never really clear, and it’s mainly Exarchopoulos’ skill that makes her three-dimensional and believable.
This may not be Sachs’ most impressive work, but it does excel in portraying the dance between expectation and disappointment within relationships, and in giving a snapshot of the complicatedness of it all.
Passages is released in select UK cinemas on 1st September 2023.
Watch the trailer for Passages here: