Passages  (18) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Ira Sachs, France/Germany, 2023, 92 mins, in English and French with subtitles

Cast:  Franz Rogowski, Ben Wishaw, Adele Exarchopoulos

Review by Carol Allen

Set in Paris Passages is the story of a gay couple,Tomas (Franz Rogowski) and Martin (Ben Wishaw), and the effect on their relationship when Tomas starts an affair with a woman, schoolteacher Agathe (Adele Exarchopoulos).  Their story is told very honestly and very frankly and it all rings true.

The film also doesn’t hang about when it comes to getting going.  Trouble for Tomas and Martin is signalled right at the beginning, when Tomas is directing Martin in a film set in a night club and is bullying his partner, who is one of the actors.  Martin goes off in a huff, so doesn’t stay for the wrap party, where Tomas and Agathe are dancing together in a way which indicates what is to come.  Which it does within minutes.

Their sexual chemistry is electric.  Tomas makes like a wolf eyeing his prey, Agathe is his compliant and enthusiastic lamb and Martin the following morning is like a wounded puppy. But that doesn’t last for long.  

Martin soon starts a relationship with hot new star novelist Amad (Erwan Kepoa Falé), which awakens Tomas’s interest again in Martin – though not enough to give up Agathe.  And when she gets pregnant the two men actually speculate about how they could share raising the child they’ve always dreamed of having together.

The hip side of Paris in which they move is both cool and very diverse, ethnically and sexually.  The couple also enjoy a comfortable  lifestyle with a high end apartment in town and a country cottage, the sale of which complicates the break up.

Tomas is frankly a selfish jerk, though Rogowski manages to make him a little bit sympathetic at times, while Wishaw engages our empathy as he struggles to deal with the situation.  As the story is about sexual attraction, the sex scenes are relevant, explicit and often deliberately ungainly – as  a spectator sport sex is a bit of a comedy – and there is one extremely explicit scene in particular between the two men which may raise a few eyebrows.  Interestingly, unlike most films featuring sexual activity, the body of Exarchopoulos, the woman at the centre of the story, is never exploited.  There’s far more male than female flesh on show here. 

The dialogue is the one flaw in the film, being an uneasy mixture of French and English.   Tomas is German but appears to speak good French and English.   It’s understandable that he should use Englishman Martin’s native language when they are alone together, but why would he and Agathe also speak English in private? 

The language issue is even more puzzling in a scene in which Agathe’s mother (Caroline Chaniolleau) is  cross questioning Tomas about his intentions towards her daughter.  Why this otherwise deliciously comic and awkward exchange  should be conducted in English is a bit of mystery, as not only are they all French speakers but Agathe’s father doesn’t understand English and his wife has to translate everything into French for him

Maybe American director Ira Sachs just doesn’t speak French very well?   But apart from that one quibble, his direction is both daring in style and otherwise impeccable.