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Passages – Sundance 2023 (Film Review)

3 min read

There's a lot of film lovers these days critiquing cinema for becoming sexless and having actors who lack sexual chemistry. Typically it's Hollywood that has let audiences down on that front, but it's still rare to see thrilling eroticism or genuine chemistry within the indie and arthouse spaces too. If you're one of those people reading this review, then ' latest drama Passages is the film for you. Although it will come at a price. 

It is immediately apparent that this romantic drama is less about the destructive nature of an affair and more so the destructive power of a narcissistic individual. Franz Rogowski is terrific as Tomas, who immediately makes an impression as a demanding and controlling film director, before he pines for the youthful Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos) at the wrap party of his latest project. Tomas isn't an endearing or empathetic character for the audience to latch on to, but his chemistry with everyone is off the charts. Maybe it's his incredible outfits that do the trick.

Passages bounces between Tomas arguing with his husband Martin () and intense sexual encounters essentially for the entire runtime — and it's delicious. What makes it all work so well is the tiny details packed within each scene; the blocking of actors within a frame, a particular line of dialogue, a glance or a longing look. The characters in orbit of the affair know how damaging it is to them and others, but the allure of lust is too strong. Sachs knows this and uses that on the audience. We know as well as the characters that they shouldn't abide by Tomas' every wish, but Sachs and the cast make us absolutely want them to. 

A man stands, looking down towards another man sat in a bed naked.
Sundance Institute

That duality and hypocrisy is part of Martin's and Agathe's arcs. Agathe has no issue in starting the affair, knowing all about Martin. She is clearly a victim of Tomas' emotional onslaught, and Martin knows better than to keep falling for Tomas. Yet, he can't seem to break away from him, when Tomas offers a new false promise. The intricacies of such delicate themes are in full view for the audience to dissect on their own accord. But one thing for sure is that Tomas is a serial narcissist that has a need to be loved by everyone at any cost.

Rogowski imbues Tomas' behaviour naturally. He dominates any space he enters; throwing himself onto the nearest sofa, taking baths, helping himself to an open bottle of wine. You feel that Tomas is a man who is only in love with the idea of love, and his slow descent into desperation for love is intoxicating to watch. Passages might feel devoid of expression and emotion at times, but this stylistic choice pays off when the likes of Exarchopoulos and Whishaw reach an emotional climax in their understated performances.

Lust can be fun and alluring, but it's also dangerous — particularly when weaponised by an individual. Sach and his incredible cast compellingly explore that idea in the sexiest, thrilling and most thought-provoking manner possible. You'll fall for the characters, but you'll also fall for the slyly intelligent filmmaking too. 

Passages premiered at this year's , as part of the Premieres program. The film will release soon through MUBI.