I was never that great at maths so I’m not entirely certain what kind of love triangle the three central characters in Ira Sachs’ absorbing film Passages form but it definitely isn’t one of those where all the sides are equal.
The key player in this Parisian ménage à trois is Tomas, a German film director, married to artist Martin who refuses to dance with him at a wrap party for his latest film ( the eponymous Passages). Tomas connects instead with teacher Agathe and they spend the night together. There is no hint of deceit here – on his return to their home the following morning Tomas is startlingly upfront with Martin, who dismisses the assignation as a not-unexpected post-production peccadillo. But having found a surprising connection with Agathe, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos from Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Tomas soon reveals he is falling in love and moves his belongings out. But he appears to see no reason why this should require severing his ties with the diffident Martin, played by Ben Whishaw whose performance, as usual, is never less than compelling. I was fortunate to have seen him in Mercury Fur in the Drum here in Plymouth in 2005 and have been captivated by his understated talent ever since.
In spite of his reckless betrayal of both, Tomas manages to repeatedly inveigle his way back in, like the proverbial bad (but beautiful) penny much as water finds its way through a sandbag. And in the face of the flood Martin and Agathe find themselves impotent (metaphorically not literally, given the film’s many and much-discussed sex scenes) as he ricochets between the two.
Franz Rogowski is utterly convincing as someone in whose face it might prove very difficult to slam the door. At first his persistence is charming, he reminded me of the subject of the James song Laid: ‘moved out of the house, so you moved next door, I locked you out, so you cut a hole in the wall…’ But once a pregnancy is added to the mix and the stakes are raised, Agathe and Martin begin to recognise the havoc Tomas’ self-absorbed search for connection is wreaking and the necessity of escaping his manipulative orbit. Tomas becomes jealous of his husband’s connection with a new partner and is also unable to exert his not inconsiderable charm over Agathe’s bewildered and sceptical parents. His craving for intimacy on his own terms means the angles of this particular triangle begin to shift and the film offers no route to a happy ending, but the more time we spend with Tomas, the more it’s not certain that he actually wants one.
Reviewed by Jemima Laing