A portrait of a man who doesn’t know what he wants and the irresistible pull he has on two people, “Passages” is an incredibly sexy film. There’s a fascinating blend of misery and arousal that feels incredibly true to life, and its honest and authentic portrayal of love in all its forms tinged with sadness has a distinctly European bent — it’s a movie that belongs in its Parisian setting. But it’s far from your standard European art-house fare: this is a film that has a widespread appeal, particularly thanks to its fantastic performances and incredibly refreshing sex scenes.
There’s a lot of conversation as to whether sex scenes really belong in film (an absurd take, but it’s prominent), but “Passages” has some of the most memorable and effective sex scenes in cinema, reminding audiences that there’s a sensitive, intelligent — and yes, sexy — way to show intimacy on screen. A scene between Tomas and Martin is the film’s standout. Never once feeling exploitative, Sach’s camera explores through a mostly still shot how two people that have been with each other for a long time understand each other’s bodies in ways that people just meeting couldn’t possibly know.
It’s rare to see sex portrayed so beautifully, especially in same-sex relationships. It’s a scene that will be talked about and dissected for ages — explicit without feeling pornographic, intimate, nuanced, sexual, and passionate. Hopefully, future filmmakers will look to “Passages” as a way to explore sex thoughtfully and exquisitely. Sex is an important part of life for many, and “Passages” understands that with a vital humanity.
Sach’s film is so thoughtfully composed. Framing is delicate yet intricate: an extended sequence where Martin stands clothed over a shirtless Tomas, wrapped in a blanket looks like a painting, and their positioning highlights the challenging disbalance in their relationship that’s coming apart at the seams, a far cry from their passionate moments together.
Tomas slowly unravels throughout the film, but it never culminates in a dramatic fight or a tear-struck screaming match that you might expect from a film that investigates modern relationships. “Passages” is far too invested in reality to do something like that. The film unravels slowly but methodically, and it’s never boring as our characters size each other up and find themselves inexplicably unable to resist Tomas, despite him clearly being unable to decide which person he wants to be with.
Then again, maybe it’s not so inexplicable. Both Whishaw and Exarchopoulos are wonderful and completely believable, but Rogowski is impossible to look away from, exuding such sexual and personal confidence, to the point that it makes complete sense why both Martin and Agathe can’t stay away from him, despite his repeated (and constant) errors. This is Ira Sach’s best film in years, a magnetic, emotional, and hugely watchable exploration of love and sex in the modern age. Those of us who’ve been following Rogowski for a while have been ready for this, and “Passages” might just be the film that makes him a superstar.
/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10