Passages (2023)

Passages is Ira Sachs’ toxic European love triangle set in Paris, starring Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw and Adèle Exarchopoulos.

Lost Boy

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Those were the days in Passages, when Britons could live, love and work wherever they pleased in the EU. In the case of the principal characters of Ira Sachs’ (Married Life, Frankie, Love is Strange, Little Men) latest film, it happens to be Paris. For an American director, this feels like a very European film.

“[Ira Sachs] is a man who has always known how to use clothes to tell a story” wrote GQ. And Passages is a film reviewed as much for its wardrobe (costume designer Khadija Zeggaï) as the film itself. It’s true, the characters are delineated by their clothes, but not in a simplistic way.

Tomas (the great Frank Rogowski, Undine) is a German film director, a kind of monstrous Fassbinder-lite, wearing the same signature colours. He is sexually charismatic and fluid, charming and totally narcissistic – uncaring of the havoc and emotional torture he creates for everyone around him. He has just finished micro-managing/directing a film, a period drama titled Passages.

At the after party, his plainly dressed husband, British graphic artist Martin (Ben Whishaw, the voice of Paddington) leaves early but Tomas stays on to dance and hooks up with French schoolteacher Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Colour). It’s significant that he is dressed in a body-revealing black mesh top.

The next morning, after they have spent a night together, he enthusiastically tells a hurt and weary Martin “I slept with a woman. Can I tell you about it, please.” Though it seems that Martin has been there before, this time Tomas’s passion takes off and he impulsively moves in with a surprised Agathe. The toxic love triangle is under way. Tomas’s desire for both his husband and his new fling unravels the lives of all three of them.

“The physical intimacy in Ira Sachs’ steamy love-triangle drama is essential to understanding the emotional intimacy between the characters, as well as the complexities of queer relationships,” says Laura Venning in her review for Little White Lies. There are lengthy episodes of graphic homosexual and heterosexual sex, where Tomas is both active and passive, which have robbed the film of a cinema release rating.

Tomas is so self-centred that he continues to come and go in the apartment he shared with Martin, ignoring boundaries or that Martin might have a new lover, an author (Erwan Kepoa Falé), who sees through Tomas. And there’s a searing scene between Martin and Agathe, also a toe-curling scene where Tomas meets Agathe’s concerned, conventional parents. in which he shocks her mother (Caroline Chaniolleau), not only by his attitude to Agathe but by turning up late after having sex with Martin, wearing a sheer crop top and low-slung leopard-print trousers.

Sachs says of Tomas “…I think he veered towards sociopathy… a man who believed the rules of the world were not for him. It defines Passages a lot. It also defines Donald Trump..”

As well as sexual innuendo, Passages implies movement through. Perhaps each character is experiencing profound change within themselves, passing from one state to another in this part of their lives. It’s a memorable film of relationship manners.

Passages premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is released on 1 September 2023 on Mubi in the UK, who produced a limited edition Passages look book. The film was initially classified in the US as NC-17 but was released by its director as unclassified.

Join the discussion