The Movie Waffler New to VOD - PASSAGES | The Movie Waffler


A filmmaker destroys his marriage when he begins an affair with a young teacher.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ira Sachs

Starring: Franz Rogowski, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Ben Whishaw

Passages poster

There's a rather crude stereotype that paints Germans as the sort of people who when staying at a holiday resort, head to the pool before breakfast and drape a towel over a sun lounger to ensure it's claimed for their later use. To borrow this metaphor, writer/director Ira Sachs' Passages is about a German who drapes his towel over two sun loungers.

Said German is Tomas (Franz Rogowski), a Paris based filmmaker with an English husband, Martin (Ben Whishaw). The film opens with Tomas throwing a strop on the final day of shooting his latest work, and it's clear he possesses impatience with other people, but needs them regardless. At the wrap party, a wired Tomas meets young teacher Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos). The two dance (in that terrible way only Europeans can) and later end up in Agathe's bed.

Passages review

Rather than keeping his betrayal a secret, Tomas proudly announces his adventure to Martin the following morning. "I slept with a woman last night," he declares with the enthusiasm of a novice daredevil who just performed their first parachute jump. Tellingly, Martin doesn't seem all that bothered, and it's clear that dealing with Tomas's ways have burnt him out. Soon, Tomas is living with Agathe while Martin takes on a new lover, but Tomas is back and forth between Agathe and Martin, dipping his soggy nachos in two salsa bowls.

Sachs makes movies about very clear-headed white middle class people who try their best to deal with situations in an adult fashion. It's almost impossible to imagine someone like Tomas getting away with his behaviour in any other cultural milieu; he'd likely end up at the bottom of the Seine. But Tomas preys on Agathe and Martin's insecurities, making them feel like a pair of rubes who aren't sophisticated enough to understand he needs the stimulation of unconventional relationships. He's the classic dickhead artist who casts those around him as their muse, a weapon he wields to make them feel responsible for any potential artistic downfall. Sachs never quite establishes whether Tomas is actually talented or merely a hack. Does it matter?

Passages review

With his soft spoken lisp and vulnerability, Rogowski has become one of the most likeable actors working on the continent today, so it's a shock to see him take so naturally to playing such a loathsome character. Unfortunately for Germans it's probably going to take a few more generations for the rest of us to stop subconsciously associating them with Nazis, such has been the relentless scratching of old war wounds by American and British media over the last eight decades, and Rogowski's campness reminds us of many broad portrayals of Nazis on screen. That Tomas behaves this way in Paris of all places, a city where a German might be best advised to keep their head down, adds an extra layer, not to mention how his victims are British and French.

Sachs is often mistakenly thought of as a "talky" director. But while his films are filled with dialogue they're also cleverly visual in their storytelling. We learn very little about Tomas, Martin and Agathe through dialogue here, because they're mostly lying, either to each other or themselves. Instead we figure them out through behaviour: how they pause before entering doors; how Agathe lies in a foetal position listening to Tomas have sex with Martin in the next room; how Tomas hunches his shoulders in a plea for sympathy. The costumes also play a large role in establishing the central trio. Agathe always dresses to impress; Tomas dresses to provoke (in one of the funniest scenes arrives for his first meeting with Agathe's parents dressed in a crop top); while Martin wears baggy jumpers that barely fit because they're comfortable and with so much stress elsewhere in his life, he doesn't want his clothes to betray him.

Passages review

At one point Agathe realises she simply isn't cut out for the chaos of living with Tomas and Martin. "I'm afraid I'll get lost between you two," she confesses. If I have one gripe with the film it's that ironically Agathe gets lost in the narrative as Sachs and his regular co-writer Mauricio Zacharias focus on Tomas and Martin. While Martin is a layered portrayal of a put-upon husband, Agathe is reduced to little more than a one-note victim, a shame given how she's portrayed by one of the most exciting actresses to rise in European cinema in recent years.

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2023 movie reviews