Berlinale Review: Passages (2023)

Ira Sachs wasn’t a director I had firmly positioned in my mind, even though I’d seen and liked a couple of his previous movies: Love is Strange (2014) and Little Men (2016). In Passages, he explores a complicated and toxic story of love, belonging and self actualization, featuring three stand-out performances from its leads – Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw and Adèle Exarchopoulos. It is, as Rogowski himself put it after the Berlinale screening I attended, a movie about the existential importance of intimacy.

We meet Tomas (Rogowski) and Martin (Whishaw), who have been together for fifteen years and their relationship is wavering under the weight of time. After Tomas meets Agathe (Exarchopoulos), he falls for her, for the otherness of the experience, for the overwhelming feeling of infatuation. Not even Agathe’s cautiousness gives Tomas pause to consider the meaning of his actions and his commitment to an ultimately shy, middle-class young woman, coming from a world that’s completely different to his. Naturally, things prove difficult, as Martin distances himself and Tomas gets a crippling case of romantic FoMo, making for a very messy situation indeed.

This is definitely a story that cares a lot about its characters, they express themselves in all sorts of manners and are mirrored in their environments. It’s not a rigidly structured film, as Sachs allowed the actors to explore their emotions within the framework of his vision for the sometimes undefinable nature of relationships. What works and what doesn’t is not prescribed, but rather is a function of what we are willing to commit.

Having a character as deeply self-involved as Tomas can be a frustrating viewing experience, but Rogowski manages to humanize even some of his more destructive impulses. Many of us have been or will, at some point, be a bit of Tomas, the unleashed, purebred romantic, who is incapable of being otherwise. Similarly, we will be the Martins, the ones who should know better than to allow ourselves to return to an unreliable and ungenerous partner, or the Agathes, the young dreamers seduced by the effervescence of love.

The movie transcends type and finds the truth in its relationships, it dotes on and suffers with its protagonists in a manner that does feel intimate, both emotionally and physically. Sachs has congealed this inherently melodramatic story into one of stoic commitment to ourselves, of finding and cherishing our individuality, both within and outside of relationships. 8

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