Thursday, August 3, 2023

Film Review: Ira Sachs’ “Passage” Gives Us a Fascinating Portrait of a Charismatic but Self-Obsessed Film Director and the Poor Souls Caught in His Orbit

Passages (c) MUBI

Film: Passages 
In Cinemas 

Premise: Thomas (Franz Rogowski) is an up-and-coming German film director working in Paris who has just wrapped his latest film Passages and is now set for the long arduous task of editing. At the wrap party, his British husband Martin (Ben Whishaw) is there to support Thomas but loses steam early in the evening (Martin has been, there done that). Who is excited to be there is Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos), one of the film crew, and her openness and spontaneity is what makes Thomas attracted to her and sleep with her that night. The morning after, Thomas (who still rides his bike everywhere–see, he’s just like us) tells Martin about his dalliance, which Martin doesn’t take well, however he isn’t totally surprised either (by Thomas’ promiscuity or his fluid sexuality). Agathe has recently broken up with a boyfriend and seems intrigued with Thomas. The trio goes through ups and downs with Thomas seemingly bored with Martin but also doesn’t want him not to be needed by him either. Both Martin and Agathe seem to know that Thomas’ emotional passion runs hot, and they will just have to wait to see what will happen once he finally comes down to earth. 

Passages (c) MUBI

My Take: I have always enjoyed the films of Ira Sachs, which all seem to surround complex main characters who may not be the most likeable, including the drug–addicted boyfriend in Keep the Lights On, the self-absorbed family members of the gay married couple in Love is Strange and the titled character of Frankie as played by Isabelle Huppert. His most successful movie, and one of my favorite films of all time, is his more minor key and intimate Little Men, which focused more on the kids of the family in the middle of a housing situation. Passages is almost as good, maybe because Sachs and his usual co-screenwriter Mauricio Zacharias give equal weight to the two lovers as they do to Thomas. Franz Rogowski, who was so good as the sympathetic gay man who finds more community in prison than in the real world in Great Freedom last year, is magnetic as Thomas, a repellent (in a commanding way) narcissist who only seems to want whatever he doesn’t have. Rogowski makes you understand why Martin and Agathe can’t seem to escape his charm while also wanting him to get his toxic comeuppance. Ben Whishaw is always good in his big films. like the James Bond franchise or as the voice of Paddington, but in his gay roles (like Lilting and Cloud Atlas) his characters almost recede into the background of their own story before finding their confidence, and his Martin follows this same trajectory with the same heart and bald emotions. Adèle Exarchopoulos seems to always play sexually liberal characters as in Blue Is the Warmest Color and this year’s The Five Devils, but here, she is the most sympathetic of the three as she is the unfortunate interloper of a long-term relationship. This is a fascinating and absorbing film, and certainly one of the best of the year. 

Passages (c) MUBI

VIP: Josée Deshaies. I am not very familiar with this Canadian cinematographer’s work (I have seen her Saint Laurent and heard good things about her work on Lamb), but her camera work here is always interesting and challenging. She likes to shoot very emotional scenes with one of the characters’ back to the camera which hides the reaction from the audience long enough to be suspenseful. She also shows us a different landscape of Paris as Thomas rides his bicycle as both a symbol of his freedom as well as a consistent, precarious danger. Ira Sachs has never worked with the same cinematographer twice. He should reconsider this and continue his relationship with Deshaies on his next film.

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