Reviewed by: Levan Tskhovrebadze

"One of the most subtle films of the ongoing year." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, Passages by the significant American writer-director Ira Sachs remains one of the most subtle films of the ongoing year. This sex- driven, lust-oriented, and remorseful story revolves around eccentric, two-timing, and possessive film director Tomas (Franz Rogowski). It grapples with melodrama while delicately establishing a respectable spot in queer cinema.

Tomas, a German-born and acclaimed young director based in France, is married to another artist, Martin (Ben Whishaw), an Englishman working for a printing house. Suddenly, Tomas falls in love with a young, straight French schoolteacher Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos). This unexpected turn wrecks the marriage, as Tomas, all about passages from this to that, here to there, and so on, becomes a central theme. Depending on his personality, age, success, and even fashion sense (his outfits are quite extravagant and pretentious), Tomas could easily be called an enfant terrible in the Parisian milieu where he's settled, spoiling and destroying everything around him like a storm one needs to stay away from.

From the very beginning, Sachs introduces Tomas as a neurotic freak on set. While directing what seems to be a period drama, the protagonist teases young actor about walking habits: "This is just a transition moment, but we are turning it into a huge drama moment because you're unable to make some simple steps down the staircase". Sachs is so cynical that these words could serve as a logline for Passages because it revolves around simple transitioning episodes and Tomas' penchant for creating huge melodrama out of them due to his inability to make some simple steps. Getting out of one relationship while getting into another, Rogowski's character usually suggests to partners to "wait for a few weeks."

Sachs challenges the audience with vibrant images and an intellectually charged chronology of narration. "Don't be melodramatic, please," Tomas tells Martin, and right after that, pure melodrama is manifested on screen with the auteur singing along to Won't You Buy My Sweet Blooming Lavender for Agathe. With these wisely-crafted sequences, Passages develops as a cinematic game in which rules are set to understand the protagonist's condition.

Tomas is identified as a "bicycle person" and the mode of transport becomes a symbol of his emotional journey. Expertly captured by cinematographer Josée Deshaies, the first bicycle ride symbolises a fresh start, with Tomas in control. Contrastingly, the final ride is a dramatic affair, capturing the disillusioned director from the profile as the camera closes in on his face. Once a neurotic storm, Tomas evolves into a fallen leaf, carried by the whims of the Parisian wind - a poignant transformation that encapsulates the film's emotional depth.

Reviewed on: 22 Nov 2023
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A married man cheats on his husband with a woman... then tells him about it.
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Amber Wilkinson ***

Director: Ira Sachs

Writer: Mauricio Zacharias

Starring: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adèle Exarchopoulos

Year: 2023

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: US

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