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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Passages ****

Starring: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Erwan Kepoa Falé

Director: Ira Sachs

Country: USA

Ira Sachs (KeepThe Lights On, Love Is Strange) has already cemented himself as the king of American independent Queer cinema. Working closely with European filmmakers, his work often uses some of strongest talent from across the Atlantic. Now, in his new film, he has shrugged off the shackles of the US altogether, with a film set (and made) in Paris, with a cast from across Western Europe.

At the wrap party for his latest film, Tomas (Rogowski - Great Freedom, A Hidden Life) impulsively sleeps with Agathe (Exarchopoulos - Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Orphan), having never had sex with a woman before. He expects his husband, Martin (Whishaw - The Bond franchise, The Lobster), to be supportive of him exploring this newfound part of his sexuality, but  in reality he is anything but. And as this experimentation turns into a full affair, the couple begin to separate. But Tomas is completely torn about what he wants, unable to choose between his husband and his girlfriend, leaving both deeply hurt and maddened by his continuing self-destruction.

Tomas is a deeply flawed character, who is used to having his flighty behaviour excused by his creativity. He’s an artist through and through; his clothes, his language, his short attention span, his passion. Intense and attractive, his abruptness serves only as part of his charm. But as life gets real around him, it becomes increasingly clear that he is unable to create anything meaningful in the real world. In one painfully uncomfortable scene, Agathe’s parents understandably quiz the seemingly gay man in front of them about his ability to look after their daughter, but his reaction is virulent, indignant and incendiary.

Rogowski is excellent as Tomas, while Whishaw brings real gravitas to a much more sobre role. With staid British dignity, his reactions are muted but calmly self-assured. And Exarchopoulos is utterly compelling as the woman sucked into this difficult man’s identity crisis.

This is a narrative we have seen countless times from the opposite angle, but a film about a gay man having a “straight crisis” with a woman has to be a first. As such, this is a progressive and deeply moving character drama about the kind of problem that really doesn’t fit into a binary view of the world. This is a brilliantly acted and sparingly composed film that succeeds in bringing this extraordinary issue politely to the screen with real emotional intelligence. This is unquestionably Sachs’ best film to date.

UK Release: Out now to watch on VOD on MUBI


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