Within five minutes of “Passages,” a wedding scene takes a haphazard change of fate, and one of the best movies of the year hits the road and rushes to unknown places.
Late at night, a noisy Parisian bistro throws a party for a feature film that a film crew has recently completed. The director, a live-streaming German immigrant named Tomas, wants to dance. His mute British husband Martin, sitting at the bar a little tired, refuses; Female volunteer sitting next to French teacher Agathe Martin.
Eighty minutes later, director and co-writer Ira Sachs’ sexual triangle comes to a perfectly judged conclusion that seems like the only possible way to close the book about these three characters. Franz Rogowski (Tomas), Ben Whishaw (Martin) and Adèle Exarchopoulos as the woman in the story of a man, a man and a woman are portrayed with unfailing mastery.
As we soon learned, Tomas takes the lead in the embodiment of an insatiable sexual appetite. He’s the deceptive, needy, Michael “Chorus Line” Bennett type of narcissist who shoots first and then forgets any questions he can ask himself. After sleeping with Agathe on the night of the party, Tomas returns home by bike, tired but dizzy. We understand that Martin has been in this cuckolded position before, but the script did not specify the terms of their marriage and the sexual histories of the characters.
All we know is what we heard from Martin at their apartment the next morning: This always happens when he’s “finished a movie.”
The rapid but inevitable escalation of events feels natural in its course and demonstrates the correctness of the style established by Sachs and his frequent writing partner, Mauricio Zacharias. (Assuming that Arlette Langmann provides additional dialogue.) Tomas collects some boxes and moves into Agathe’s place. Martin, a graphic designer, begins a relationship with a novelist and literary editor (Erwan Kepoa Falé).
There’s a lot more going on in “Passages,” including some encouragingly honest intimacy and male nudity scenes that earned an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association. Okay, first of all: It’s hypocrisy and grossly misunderstood – although it’s a typical exaggeration in America where we sexualize everything but sex and don’t mind the R-rating for the most overt violence. flip out about simulated lovemaking, especially gay sex. Sachs, who made his film debut outside the US, called the rating “cultural censorship,” and it’s an indication that homophobia isn’t losing but gaining ground.
The filmmaker has been here before. “Love is Strange,” one of Sachs’ previous films, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, received an R rating for the most ridiculous reasons. A few words. Nearly a decade later, we’re dealing with a volunteer rating board that still doesn’t know what they’re doing, even though you may feel like you’re getting a better night’s sleep as long as we keep giving brutality a free pass and every imaginable rating. obstacle.
“Passages” do not hide Tomas’ reckless impulses and motivations; does not explain anyone’s behavior or feelings because explanations are not drama material. Contradictions, ambiguities, complex inner conflicts are what feed the story. Pillow talk in this short but flowing portrait of confusion and desire says so much in so few words.
At one point (several, actually) Tomas says “I love you” to Agathe. Agathe tells Tomas that she doesn’t know whether to believe him or not. “I say it when I feel it,” she says.
“You say it when it works for you,” he replies, and that response—no wrong drama, almost no intonation—is one of the hundred little moments left in “Passages.”
“Passages” — 3.5 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: NC-17 (for depictions of nudity and sex)
Working time: 1:31
How to watch: Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.