Past experiences shape who we are. It’s the reflection of the things past that makes one grow as a person.
Therefore, Ira Sachs’s new film Passages, is a snapshot of a person going through that process of growth, for better or worse. It’s a mature film in more ways than one and a realistic look at modern relationships.
Passages highlights the true acting talent of great German actor Franz Rogowski (Transit, Undine, Great Freedom) because he is phenomenal in this sexually-charged character study. Taking place in Paris, the film is about a love triangle among three very attractive people; there’s Tomas (Rogowski), a German film director; his studious English husband Martin (Ben Whishaw, Perfume, Paddington, Women Talking), who owns a high-end commercial print shop; and a young school teacher Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Five Devils).
Rogowski’s Tomas, in his boyish looks and permanent lisp in any language he speaks, exudes a certain vulnerability that is quite irresistible. Tomas is first seen on a movie set, directing actors in English, asking an actor to walk down the stairs over and over again, dictating every movement.
This intro gives an impression that he is a difficult person to deal with. At the wrap party for the film at a bar, Martin gets bored and leaves early. Tomas meets Agathe, who also worked on set as a still photographer. Hooking up with a woman is a whole new experience for Tomas. And rightly, as soon as he tells Martin, jealous Martin packs a bag and leaves.
Over the course of the film, Tomas vacillates between Martin and Agathe, between the world of comfort and security, and newfound desires and possible parenthood. He is a self-absorbed artist who manipulates others’ feelings for fulfilling his desires, only at his convenience.
Sachs, along with two other writers — Mauricio Zacharias (Keep the Lights On) and French arthouse veteran Arlette Langmann (A nos amours, Jean de Florette) — keeps things real and guards Passages from falling into old style, cliché-ridden melodrama. Martin is not a downtrodden house-wife by any means. He is a realist of the pair and a pragmatic one and won’t take Tomas’ bullshit when he sees it. So is Agathe, a tough school teacher, who is no pushover. But they often find themselves in situations where they cannot resist Tomas’ undeniable magnetism and sex appeal.
And the sex scenes, both gay and straight, are pretty steamy. Whether it involves perfectly-toned Whishaw’s backside, or Exarchopoulos’ voluptuous body, or Rogowski’s athletic, dancer-trained taut muscles underneath various see-through shirts, all the scenes are very frankly and naturally depicted. There’s definitely something for everyone in Passages.
As Tomas digs himself a hole over and over again, he finds himself rejected and alone. And it provides the film’s most exhilarating and contemplative scene: a long tracking shot of Tomas riding a bicycle through the streets of Paris in a tux with a faux-fur coat. He wears a somber expression with Albert Ayler’s upbeat Spirits Rejoice blaring.
Did he learn anything from these experiences or is he the same self-centered boy as before? Is he determined to be a better person to everyone around him? As the title suggests, it’s the passages we go through in life that benefit us. It might not hit Tomas right away what it all means, but it will eventually hit him down the road and grow up.
I really hope Rogowski gets the international recognition he really deserves with this film. He is a real deal.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com
- Mauricio Zacharias
- Ira Sachs
- Arlette Langmann
- Franz Rogowski
- Ben Whishaw
- Adèle Exarchopoulos