Cult US director Ira Sachs gave us Love Is Strange, the thrilling story of a quietly healthy gay marriage. Here, by contrast, he explores a same-sex union that’s turbulent and dysfunctional. This is a story of a love triangle in Paris that isn’t just same-old, same old – in large part thanks to the presence of national treasure Ben Whishaw.
Feted, narcissistic German auteur Tomas (Franz Rogowski) swaggers around in his tight crop tops, a bo-ho alpha male. Only semi-loyal to his English husband, Martin (Whishaw), Tomas falls for trendy, French twentysomething Agathe (Blue Is the Warmest Colour’s Adele Exarchopoulos). Tomas wants both Agathe and Martin in his life and uses every trick in the book to make it happen.
Though superbly acted, by all three leads, Passages takes a while to ignite. Tomas gets a few juicily hilarious lines, but his predictably outrageous behaviour is wearing. Jeez, if Martin and Agathe are silly enough to care about him, why should we care about them?
Luckily, the mood changes dramatically when we meet Agathe’s mother, Edith (Caroline Chaniolleau), who was barely around when Agathe was growing up. By introducing her, Sachs provides a context for Agathe’s addiction to Tomas. Via the script and visual clues, we notice how much Edith and Tomas have in common. Both wear wonderfully chunky jackets (big, brown, perfect for snuggling into). Both can be icily petulant.
No wonder Agathe is a wreck. Close-ups of her apparently blithe face lay the ground-work for a shocking reveal. Curled up, in a pretty little bedroom, Agathe writhes in her own circle of hell.
As Agathe gains a hinterland, so does the tense, long-suffering Martin. When we finally see him and Tomas in an intimate scene, no words are exchanged, yet the lack of inhibition on Martin’s part, speaks volumes. Seriously, if only all sex scenes were this eloquent.
It’s also telling that we see less of Exarchopoulos’ body than Whishaw’s. This is not your standard, European erotic movie. Who knows if it will be popular? From the way Sachs shoots the streets of Paris, it’s obvious he adores New Wave film-makers like Truffaut.
Maybe he’s hoping Gen Z viewers will embrace Passages as this century’s Jules et Jim. Either way, it’s sensitively rousing stuff and yet another triumph for Whishaw. Nice one, gentle Ben.
91mins, cert 18