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“Passages”: Seduction and the Domestic Life

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From left, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Ira Sachs, Franz Rogowski and Ben Whishaw attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “Passages” premiere at Library Center Theatre on January 23, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images)

By Vanessa Zimmer

Emotional, pleading Tomas tells his husband, Martin, “I’m so confused.” Which is putting it mildly, because he’s having a white-hot affair with a woman.

That’s the complicated premise of Passages, director Ira Sachs’ eighth film (including Forty Shades of Blue, the 2005 U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize winner) to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. This latest creation premiered January 23 at the 2023 Festival.

German filmmaker Tomas (Franz Rogowski) succumbs to the charms of an elementary school teacher named Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos) at a film party and immediately embarks on an affair. He also immediately confesses to Martin (Ben Whishaw), who drags out his suitcase and starts packing, then relents, blurts “It’s fine,” kisses Tomas, and heads off to work.

As time goes on, confused Tomas — who is used to being the perfectionist boss at work — envisions he might have both Agathe and Martin, that they could be a family. After all, don’t they all want children?

Passages is set in Paris and Tomas travels by bicycle, lending itself to beautiful, vibrant cinematography. All three actors give co–writer-director Sachs sensitive, complex performances. At the Q&A following the screening, Sachs attributed that to good casting, and to a technique he often uses at the beginning of filming. “Actors are smart. They know they need each other,” he prefaces.

He does not favor rehearsing, but instead introduces the actors and dispatches them on a sort of “date.” “It was a pretty intense experience,” says Rogowski. “We don’t know each other and we were loaded with all the fears and excitement. You introduced us, and then you left.” He sounds a little lost at the memory, and the audience laughs.

The three managed to start a conversation and build a rapport, which was important because their scenes called for intimacy, Rogowski says. “We need someone like you to create trust and make it happen,” he says to Sachs. “That felt like a great support and inspiration.” 

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