12 June 2024
Ira Sachs Passages set for UK Cinema release in September

Sundance London 2023 review – Passages (2023)

Warmth and beautiful observation have characterized Ira Sachs’ best films – Love Is Strange and Little Men in particular – but his eye for detail has never shied away from the intricacies and difficulties of close relationships. It’s almost as if he’s been preparing us for his latest, Passages, one which marks a radical change in tone. The heartfelt aspect of those previous movies is gone, and in its place comes a savage coil of barbed wire.

Self-obsessed film director Tomas (Franz Rogowski) is married to artist Martin (Ben Whishaw) but his eye constantly roves, looking for new and more exciting experiences. Meeting teacher Agathe (Adele Exarchopoulos) seems to give him what he wants – after meeting her at a bar, he’s soon in her bedroom – and the thrill is such that he can’t wait to tell Martin all about it. When it proves to be more than a one night stand, it soon starts eat away at his marriage, with Martin struggling to detach himself while he knows he’s still under his partner’s spell. It’s earlier days, however, for Agathe, for whom the penny has yet to drop.

Far from being a tale of love or commitment, Passages is a dark story where pain is the only result for anybody involved with somebody like Tomas, consumed as he is by his own wants and needs. He yo-yos between Martin and Agathe, manipulating and exploiting their feelings with an uncanny sense of who is the more vulnerable to his charms at any given time. On the rare occasions when he’s challenged – you’ll want to cheer at the way Agathe’s mother sees right through him and makes no bones about it – he alternates between the irritation of a spoilt child and a wide-eyed “who, me?” approach, both of which usually work. But not always.

A bitter humour weaves itself into the fabric of the movie but, in truth, there’s nothing inherently funny about a sociopath destroying the lives of two people who love him, simply to gratify his own need for attention. And Rogowski’s outstanding performance is one of the best of the year – slippery, self-serving and with the brilliant ability to sound utterly reasonable as he plays on the feelings of Martin and Agathe. Like the child that he is, he picks them up and puts them down like toys and, even when they show signs of pulling away, there’s no possibility of him feeling anything close to the hurt he’s caused them. The film is, ultimately, all about him – which is exactly how he sees the world.

Sachs makes impressive use of silence throughout the film, using it to speak volumes at especially critical moments. There’s a scene between Whishaw and Exarchopoulos – both of whom are excellent – when she reveals something crucially important and in the silence that follows they both realise they’ve been played by the man who’s brought them together. It’s devastating and brilliantly played. As is the entire film.

★★★★1/2


Drama | Sundance London, 7 and 8 July 2023 | MUBI | Released in UK cinemas on 1 September 2023 | Cert: 18 | Dir: Ira Sachs | Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adele Exarchopoulos


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