de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

Passages is an intimate, well-acted human drama that showcases just how great of a talent Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, and Adèle Exarchopoulos are, as is co-writer and director Ira Sachs, who continues to only grow as a storyteller and is perhaps his strongest film since his 2012 Sundance entry Keep the Lights On. Deftly exploring the complexities of a love triangle that manages to balance itself as a raw human drama and sophisticated character study about a bisexual narcissist caught in a triangle of love, Sachs delivers a film of exquisite artistry, one that explores human complexity and complicated characters. Sachs once again explores the human condition with such stark vigor.

More than anything, Passages is a masterfully executed drama—an absorbing drama that is intoxicating. Full of sensual moments, striking compositions, vibrant colors, and superbly scripted exchanges, the film is filled with many alluring moments while still never quite wallowing itself in forced melodrama. Highly artful and equally naturalistic, there is a commanding verisimilitude to Sach’s eighth feature film.

 Ben Whishaw and Franz Rogowski in Passages (2023) Courtesy Mubi Films 

Perfectly cast as actors, where each actor is given an equal amount of character depth and emotion, the film stars Franz Rogowski (Transit, Undine) as a self-absorbed German film director named Tomas who lives in Paris with his British husband named Martin (Ben Whishaw). Martin is a fellow artist who works at a designer company, and both men appear to be slowly shifting apart. In the opening of the film, Tomas is directing a scene as he is badgering Martin, who is just playing an extra, on how to walk down the stairs to a bar and carry a cup. There appears to be a growing disconnect between the two men, but Martin and Franz are in an open marriage. However, there appears to still be a growing tension between them. Franz appears unhappy, and his curiosity yearns for more. This leads him to encounter Agathe (Exarchopoulos), a grade schoolteacher he meets at a bar. They end up at Agathe’s apartment, and they end up seducing each other with great passion. Martin begins to realize that he enjoys the intimacy of a woman. Tomas ends up gloating about the encounter with Martin, but the openness that both men agreed to eventually fades into emotional wounds and jealousy.

Sachs has explored dysfunctional relationships many times before with films with such titles as Forty Shades of Blue, Keep the Lights On, and Love is Strange. Passages is by far the most intricate of the filmography, as Sach’s shows the amount of heartbreak others can wreak on each other. There is a destructive side to Tomas, an egocentric artist who is self-obsessed with his own work and holds little regard for the amount of pain his selfishness inflicts on others. Without spoiling anything, Agathe ends up falling deeply in love with Tomas and wants to build a future with him, which leads to a brilliant scene where Agathe’s mother confronts Tomas on his double life and inconveniencies, which leads Tomas to dismiss himself from the dinner table. Meanwhile, Martin ends up building a new relationship with a very sensitive and intelligent novelist named Ahmad (William Nadylan) that appears to bring him joy. It doesn’t take long for Tomas to return, announcing in their French home that Martin is trying to sell. He bounces between Martin and Agathe, gravitating toward whatever desire he feels in the moment without ever thinking of the consequences that could lie ahead.

 Adèle Exarchopoulos and Ben Whishaw in Passages (2023) Courtesy Mubi Films 

As complicated and deeply flawed of a character as Tomas is, Sachs maturely brings insight and conflicting insights into his character. While it might seem one-sided, Tomas does bring great joy to both Tomas and Agathe in the moment. When they are together, the future is disregarded, and the past is irrelevant. There is a resonant passion between each of them. There is a deep satisfaction Tomas gives to both Agathe and Martin, and the single-shot love-making scenes—one between Tomas and Agate and another one before Tomas and Martin—hold the same staging and rhythm and show how most human passion and sensuality unfold with philosophical presentism.

These scenes are very explicit but vivid and certainly do not warrant a NC-17 rating due to just how emotionally restrained the material is. The performances are compelling across the board. Rogowski is certainly self-absorbed, but he ends up bringing a charm to the character, despite how he mistreats his lovers. Both Whishaw and Exarchopoulos show great emotional restraint with their emotions, and Sach’s story, which he co-wrote with long-time collaborator Mauricio Zacharias, delivers a resonate love story that feels so heartbreakingly real.

 Franz Rogowski and Adèle Exarchopoulos in Passages (2023) Courtesy Mubi Films

I’ll admit that my heart was racing at the collection of the incandescent final images of the film, with Rogowski’s face fleeting through the swift passage of time on the streets of Paris, which certainly sums up the film’s title and metaphor. Sachs has yet again made an enduring film of deep affliction and rich intimacy. It’s a mature love story, one that holds an emotional authenticity that doesn’t miss one false note.

Passages is now playing in limited theaters