Movie Review: Passages

A smart and sexy love triangle set in Paris, if you're into that sort of thing.

There’s been a lot of talk about sex in cinema these day. It seems that Gen Z and young millennials are not fans of mixing sex with their movies (they’d rather watch porn on their computers, I guess). This is patently ridiculous, of course, as sex is essential to films, arguably one of the raisons d’etre of moviemaking. The camera often sets out to seduce and be seduced. When we refer to the “male gaze” or the “female gaze,” we’re not talking about landscapes, people.

As for sex scenes? Well, let me state for the record that I am pro sex scenes in films, although I’ve certainly seen them wielded with varying degrees of success. It’s a cliché, but the best sex scenes are the ones that reveal something about the characters. Better still if they tell us about the characters and are hot.

There’s sex—and lots of it—in Ira Sach’s wonderful Passages. If Zoomers want to avoid it, their loss. They’re missing out on a complex, voyeuristically fascinating film about a love triangle where characters are yes, revealed, through their desires. (Also, it’s hot.)

Tomas (Franz Rogowski) is a German film director living in Paris. We first meet him on set, where he’s being cruel to one of his actors, mocking him for not being able to naturally walk down a flight of stairs. He even manages to be kind of a dick to the extras.

And yet, right away, we can see that there is something magnetic about him—he’s exactly the kind of man who can get away with this sort of behavior on set. At the wrap party, he asks his husband, Martin (Ben Whishaw), to dance with him but Martin isn’t in the mood. Suddenly the sexy Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos) materializes. “I’ll dance with you,” she says.

On the dance floor, Tomas and Agathe go from something friendly to something, well, erotic. Martin watches them dryly and goes home.

Later, the party moves from a club to someone’s home. In the kitchen, Tomas and Agathe stare at each other—a kind of gravitational pull draws them to each other. In short order, they have closed the door to a bedroom and are having sex.

When Tomas arrives home the next morning, he half-heartedly apologizes for not coming home and then proudly announces that he had sex with a woman. Martin starts for a second, and then composes himself. He doesn’t seem all that upset. Is it because he’s used to such provocations from his husband? Or is it because, as Tomas asserts, he has fallen out of love with him?

Passages is about what propels desire—newness, exoticism, a sense of taboo. Indeed, almost instantly after establishing a relationship with Agathe, Tomas once again desires Martin, who has now taken up with the brilliant young novelist, Amad (Erwan Kepoa Falé). Eventually both Agathe and Martin come to see Tomas as an addiction, something they’re drawn to in their weakest moments. (Caroline Chaniolleau has a great turn as Agathe’s protective mother, who sees through Tomas’ bullshit and is decidedly not under his spell.)

Passages is one of the best love triangle movies I’ve ever seen, primarily because it is about the fluid nature of not just sexuality but desire. And as Tomas, Rogowski gives an electrifying, star-making performance. (Of course, those familiar with his work in Transit already knew he was a star.) As audience members, we become a bit like Martin and Agathe, finding him alluring, despite ourselves. Sitting in a dark theater, we are being seduced. But I guess that’s boring, or something.