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24th September 2023

Passages review: Desire has never been so pleasureless

Passages studies sexuality and desire through a queer love triangle but forgets about the pleasure in Mubi’s latest release
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Passages review: Desire has never been so pleasureless
Photo: Passages (2023) @ Mubi

A destructive love triangle with a sociopath at its centre. This is the premise of Passages, Ira Sachs’ latest film which explores desire, hedonism and family dynamics.

Tomas (Franz Rogowski) is a film director, who after wrapping on his new feature, cheats on his husband Martin (Ben Whishaw) with younger woman Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos). Thus ensues what Sachs calls an “endless circle of desire” as Tomas bounces from one lover to another with no care for the emotional consequences. Whilst refreshing in its frank portrayal of sex and its open discussions of queerness, this desire is rarely erotic nor exciting. Instead, it fills the audience with dread and frustration as lies and deceit simply accumulate.

Much like its protagonist, Passages is a film liberated from convention. In true European arthouse style, it eschews traditional narrative choices and confronts the audience with a portrait of Tomas in all his recklessness. Gaps between scenes leave unexplained ellipses as decisions are not seen being made but rather just their consequences unravelled. Over time though, this cyclical string of bad choices can become repetitive and tiresome. Similar to Martin and Agathe, the audience are left behind in the destructive trail of Tomas, begging for him to leave us alone. 

This is not to say Martin and Agathe are blameless, the film is far too complex and open to draw such a simple conclusion. In addition to studying Tomas’ seemingly hedonistic impulses, Passages also examines the complicity of the people drawn into his irresponsible web of decisions. Perhaps, there is an irony to this theme where, in the style of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, the audience too feels complicit with the pain on screen – simply for having bought a ticket. In this sense, the film is undeniably effective in portraying the way in which we can become blinded by desire and the dangerous path that one bad decision can take you down.

Nevertheless, the simple thing is that the film is almost entirely miserable to sit through. Although its fluid portrayal of sexuality and relationships is certainly noteworthy in and of itself, Passages ultimately fails to offer any burning questions nor any interesting answers on this topic. Similarly, it can’t be recommended as an experience alone as there is nothing here invigorating enough to hold onto. Don’t be fooled by Mubi’s seductive marketing and pass on watching this one. 


Passages is out in select cinemas now.

Daniel Collins

Daniel Collins

Head film editor and writer for The Mancunion.

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