Director Ira Sachs dissects the complex geometry in a love triangle

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Coming soon
3.5 out of 5

With R-rated films in the 1980s, sex scenes were practically mandatory. Outside of the erotic thriller craze of the ’90s, the number of bed scenes in American pictures has been in steep decline since then. This year, there were a few in Oppenheimer and Beau Is Afraid, none of them particularly joyful. Gay sex scenes, you say? Not if you hope to get any Christian Evangelical bums in the seats. They much prefer Q-Anon propaganda like Sound of Freedom.

Thankfully, there are always foreign films. Or, in the case of Passages, an American filmmaker making a movie in France with a Pan-European cast. An emotionally charged drama with a mercurial artist at the centre, Passages explores the conflicts fluid sexuality can set off.

The jerk in question is Tomas (Franz Rogowski, Transit), a director just off wrapping his latest film. He’s brusque and terminally self-involved, but unquestionably charismatic. Unmoored by the end of the shoot, and somewhat bored by his straight-laced long-time partner Martin (Ben Whishaw, Q in the Bond movies), Tomas has a fling with Agatha (Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue Is the Warmest Color).

The auteur doubles down on the clearly doomed relationship by breaking up with Martin and moving in with Agatha. By the time he realizes his mistake, Agatha is pregnant and Martin has moved on.

Directed by Ira Sachs, responsible for several seminal LGBTQ+ films (Love Is Strange, Keep the Lights On), Passages is a no holds barred exploration into toxic relationships. The film’s calling card may be an explicit sex scene between Tomas and Martin, but the movie is bigger than that. The inevitable confrontations that precede the ending are hard to watch, a good indicator of a yarn well spun in a brisk 90 minutes.

None of this would work without a forceful leading man. Rogowski is straight-up magnetic. The worse Tomas behaves, the more compelling it gets. At no moment do you question that this is a man of big appetites who can’t help himself. You may not like him, but you’ll watch him go down in flames. ■