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Review: Passages (2023)

Passages (2023)

Directed by: Ira Sachs

Premise: A married gay man (Franz Rogowski) has an affair with a woman (Adèle Exarchopoulos). Rather than commit to one relationship or the other, he tries to have it both ways and maintain his marriage.

What Works: Passages is a study of a relationship with particular relevance to this cultural moment. The picture is about Tomas, a married gay man who enters into a relationship with a woman and tries to build a polyamorous family with her and his husband. From the jump it’s obvious that this project is going to fail but the drama is in the how and the why. Tomas is a fundamentally selfish and needy person who follows his impulses without much thought. The picture is challenging to contemporary attitudes about sexuality and relationships; Tomas is gay but he imagines that he can build any kind of relationship with any combination of people. Passages never spells out the sexual-political message but the drama implies that sexuality is innate and deterministic and not up for revision. Tomas wants it all but his sexuality and identity, and the identities of the people in his life, will not allow him to have it all. As viewers we can see Tomas creating a timebomb of a relationship and the tension is located in whether the two people he’s involved himself with will realize that and get out before it’s too late. Passages has tremendous frankness and honesty. The sexuality is quite explicit but in a style that suits the tone of the movie and certain tender moments are framed in interesting ways that emphasize the way Tomas looks at his lovers. It’s also emotionally honest, even brutal at times, in the way it unsentimentally portrays this doomed relationship. That frankness and emotional impact is partly due to the filmmaking but also the performances. Franz Rogowski throws himself into the role of Tomas and allows himself to be unlikable but just charming enough to make his relationships believable. Adèle Exarchopoulos plays Agathe, a woman in a relationship that’s bad for her and she knows it, and we can see her internal calculations in the subtleties of Exarchopoulos’ performance. The most heartbreaking performances is Ben Wishaw as Martin, Tomas’ husband. He is invested in his marriage and is entranced by the possibilities that Agathe represents but those dreams are ultimately dashed.

What Doesn’t: Passages centers upon Tomas who is a terrible and pathetic person. That’s not a flaw of Passages. The movie wants us to study and understand this relationship and the people in it but not necessarily cheer them on. That’s a legitimate approach to take but Passages is not satisfying in the manner of a Hollywood film and it will challenge the palate of mainstream viewers.

Disc extras: Available on MUBI.

Bottom Line: Passages is a cold film but one that offers a lot to examine and consider. It’s a bold picture in ways that go beyond sexual explicitness and speak to the limits of our ability to reimagine our lives.

Episode: #974 (November 19, 2023)