Franz Rogowski is one of the most interesting actors in cinema today. International films “Luzifer,” “Undine,” and “Transit” are just a few examples of his standout performances. In Ira Sachs’ “Passages,” he plays a filmmaker named Tomas who is married to Martin (Ben Whishaw) but that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos), his first female sexual partner. A complicated love triangle develops as egotistical Tomas begins to manipulate both individuals damaging their lives forever.
“Passages” marks the fifth collaboration between writer-director Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias, who return to their love story roots. Maya Angelou once wrote, “Love recognizes no barriers” but maybe it should, especially when that said “love” begins to destroy the lives of those affected by such deep affection.
The film opens on the set of Tomas’ new feature. It’s the fifth take of a simple scene that isn’t going as expected. “Just walk down the staircase! It’s not that hard!” he yells at the actor. Is Tomas a meticulous filmmaker or just a narcissistic a-hole? By the end of Sachs’ film, you’ll know the answer.
The wrap party takes place at a nightclub in Paris where we meet Agathe, one of the extras in Tomas’ film. Her boyfriend is ready to bail, but she is not ready to leave. Agathe tells him she wants to go home alone and walks away. Cut to the bar where we meet Martin hanging out. His husband Tomas approaches him, “Baby let’s dance,” but Martin, tired from a long day at work, responds, “No, No, No,” he’s not in the mood.
Tomas is used to getting what he wants. He turns to Agathe who is now standing next to both men while waiting for the bartender. “It’s my party and my husband doesn’t want to dance with me,” he tells her. She looks at him and comments, “I’ll dance with you.” And so, it begins. A simple conversation with profound implications.
Martin leaves the party telling Tomas he must wake up early, so Tomas and Agathe stay on the dancefloor, moving to the EDM music while firing off seductive smiles and glares. The anthem “Rain (XXXTended version) by The Crystal Ark seems to be speaking to the two of them with lyrics, “I know you, but, damn, I want to know you more.” Tomas, angry that his husband left the party, begins to act on impulse. He goes home with Agathe. They sleep together. The next morning, he heads home.
From here the story takes a deep dive as Sachs explores the dissolution of a marriage. As Tomas tides his bicycle through the streets of Paris, the look on his face indicates he’s in deep thought. Rogowski doesn’t need to speak to convey his character’s emotions. He just cheated on his husband and it’s the first time he’s been intimate with a woman. At the time the viewer doesn’t know what Tomas could be thinking, but after viewing the film it’s evident that his thoughts are driven by manipulation.
In a great scene between Rogowski and Whishaw, a jolt is felt by the viewer as we watch Tomas ask, “You know what I was doing last night?” Martin responds looking uninterested, “No, but whatever it was you sound very excited.” “I had sex with a woman” admits Tomas while Sachs keeps the camera intensely focused on Whishaw. A blank stare is followed by his eyes glancing downward, a large sigh, and finally, “I don’t need to hear this.” The dialogue written by Sachs and Zacharias leaves you transfixed as we learn so much about this couple in the following two minutes.
Despite the hurt Martin must be feeling, Tomas continues to see Agathe leading to a passionate affair. The sex scenes in “Passages” are graphic which explains why the film is rated NC-17 (Sachs decided to release it without the rating). Tomas and Agathe are loud and animalistic while exploring each other’s bodies, resembling an act of lust. The sex scene between Tomas and Martin (which lasts for two minutes) is also filled with passion, but it comes from a different place. The audience sense these two individuals care deeply about each other.
Sachs loves to tell stories that have several layers resulting in a level of uncertainty that permeates the film. You’re never sure where the story is going. Martin kicks Thomas out of their home, so he moves in with Agathe. She becomes pregnant. Meanwhile, Martin begins having an affair with Amad (Erwan Kepoa Falé) and he moves in which doesn’t stop Tomas from barging into his former apartment whenever he wants.
“Passages” may refer to the entrances and exists of these character’s lives or it could refer to the paths cleared by their actions that lead down the uncertainty of life. Whishaw and Exarchopoulos are superb, but this is Rogowski’s moment of triumph. The German actor captivates with a performance that is childlike as Thomas disregards the emotions of everyone else to fulfill his desires. Manipulation exemplification.
Now showing in theaters