Passages opens with one of its leads Tomas (Franz Rogowski) immersed in setting a scene for his latest film. With the director making subtle adjustments to truly capture the intended experience only to grow quickly frustrated with his cast’s inability to give him what he wants. Increasingly micromanaging the staging until his emotions taint the proceedings.

It’s a scene that neatly encapsulates the drama that is about to unfold. As one-half of a stable, if tepid, partnership with husband Martin (Ben Whishaw), Tomas has found himself trapped in personal and professional mundanity. A chance encounter with schoolteacher Agathe (Adele Exarcholopoulos) gives him a taste of the raw, amorphous excitement he has been seeking, but has no idea how to wrestle with it. The tensions between him and Martin exacerbate and an unsustainable affair with Agathe deepens.


It’s a film about desire and our inability to quantify what we want from its fulfilment. Tomas’s affair brings him jubilation that he wants to pursue to its fullest, even as it brings him new, unwanted responsibilities. All the while he’s unable to let go of the stability and tenderness offered by Martin. In the hands of a lesser actor Tomas would be an insufferable menace with his capricious behaviour and ignorance of other’s feelings. With the ever-versatile Rogowski though there is a raw vulnerability in his flights of passion. He no more knows why he behaves the way he does than we do and to Ira Sachs’ credit he pays for it almost as much as those around him.


Director Ira Sachs (Love is Strange, Frankie) continues his understated approach to passionate people. With little in the way of score and stripped down, cinema verité camerawork it is the substance, not the style that is cinematic. The competing desires of Tomas, Agathe and Martin permeate every frame in the most vulgar, clumsy, and ultimately human manner. Which the trio of actors pull off with great aplomb. You will never relate harder to Ben Whishaw’s tearful breakup when the emotional strain sends snot pouring out his nose.

Passages has already gained a reputation for its content and while Sachs is very much concerned with his characters sex lives calling it the ‘horniest’ film of the year is an oversimplification. Rather it’s a film about the wants and needs of creative people. Sex is just one integral part of that, and Sachs is conscious of how longing doesn’t disappear when we leave the bedroom/editing suite. Like many of his films Passages ends on an ambiguous note, with Tomas alone, contemplating the consequences of his self-serving behaviour. With the score finally kicking in to take us away, like Tomas, moving inevitably onwards.