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By Sumner Forbes | February 29, 2024

We’ve all seen relationships that are doomed for failure from the start. Whether we say anything or not, an ugly end is inevitable when we see a certain combination of insurmountable interpersonal factors. Sometimes, there’s only one factor, and that’s a personality as volatile and unpredictable as that of Tomas (Franz Rogowski) in Ira Sachs’ gem, Passages. No matter how admirable the efforts of his counterparts, Martin and Agathe (Ben Whishaw and Adèle Exarchopolous, respectively), to make things work, we instinctively know throughout the film’s 90 minutes that they won’t be able to overcome the tempest that is Tomas.

Tomas is a German film director living in Paris with his boyfriend and fellow creative Martin. He is seemingly happy to play second fiddle to Tomas and his selfish antics, hidden behind a guise of artistic genius (at least in his own mind). Their relationship works – until it doesn’t. Frequently disloyal and subject to temperamental outbursts, Tomas strays from Martin. Enter Agathe, an assistant on Tomas’ latest film. After wrapping production, Agathe and Thomas begin a fling, and soon they’re living together. Being who he is, however, Tomas soon has second thoughts and begins to miss Martin, throwing a wrench into his relationship with both.

“…seemingly happy to play second fiddle to Tomas and his selfish antics.”

While this may sound like a staid narrative contrivance, the execution is anything but because of what Sachs gets out of his magnificent actors, and it’s impossible to imagine the film working as well as it does without the headlining trio. Whishaw is a consistently impressive presence in all of his work (even if the material is beneath him), and we root for him as he finally takes a stand against the emotional abuse at the hands of Tomas. Exarchopoulos, too, is one of the more reliable performers in France, and Agathe’s diminishing role in the three-headed relationship is heartbreaking to witness.

As it stands, though, the film’s success hinges upon Rogowski, who at this point is this critic’s favorite working actor. His unpredictability and frenetic nature are what make his work in Passages so memorable. Every phrase and movement is impossible to forecast from moment to moment, which gives credence to Tomas’ role as an emotional wildcard. He’s a jealous personality who only accepts things on his terms alone. Dinners with friends and family go about as well as expected, and he simply can’t tolerate the happiness of Tomas or Agathe if it doesn’t involve him at the center.

In that sense, watching Passages isn’t that much different from watching a slow-motion train wreck. We know what’s going to happen, but we can’t peel our eyes away, and that’s due to both Sachs’ direction (and fantastic casting) and Rogowski’s magnetic performance. Filled with affecting intimacy and some of the best (and essential) sex scenes in recent memory, this is one of Sachs’ absolute best films and further solidifies the exemplary status of the three lead performers.

Passages (2023)

Directed: Ira Sachs

Written: Mauricio Zacharias, Ira Sachs, Arlette Langmann

Starring: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adèle Exarchopoulos, etc.

Movie score: 9.5/10

Passages Image

"…one of Sachs’ absolute best..."

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