davidehrlich’s review published on Letterboxd:
Not long into Ira Sachs’ “Passages” — sometime all too shortly after a restless, self-involved filmmaker (Franz Rogowski) leaves his much softer husband (Ben Whishaw) for the earthy and new woman (Adèle Exarchopoulos) he meets at a dance club after a stressful day of shooting — Tomas launches into a post-coital chat by telling Agathe that he’s fallen in love with her. “I bet you say that a lot,” she replies, bluntly sniffing out his bullshit in a way that suggests this Parisian school teacher doesn’t understand how far most artists would go to convince their audience of an emotional truth. “I say it when I mean it,” Tomas counters. “You say it when it works for you,” Agathe volleys back. They’re both right, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that they’re saying exactly the same thing.
A signature new drama from a director whose best work (“Keep the Lights On,” “Love Is Strange”) is at once both generously tender in its brutality and unsparingly brutal in its tenderness, the raw and resonant “Passages” is the kind of fuck around and find out love triangle that rings true because we aspire to its sexier moments but see ourselves in its most selfish ones.
The clearest examples of each kind invariably trace back to Tomas, who’s an unrepentant ego monster from the first time we see him angrily fussing over an actor’s body language on the set of his latest movie (which shares its title and producer with Sachs’ film, and poisons both projects with the lingering hint of autobiography). The fact that he’s married to a man patient and gentle enough to be played by Paddington Brown suggests that Tomas’ auteurial snarl is disguising a secret compassion — not that his loud and proud selection of fishnet crop tops leaves all that much to the imagination — but there’s no denying that his flair for drama continues when the cameras aren’t rolling. And so it goes; some people can only seem to feel love’s flush when it threatens to set their house on fire, and Martin appears to have made peace with the fact that his husband is one of them, though Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias allow the couple’s relationship history to remain as uncertain as its boundaries.
What sparks Tomas’ eventual self-immolation, however, is the fact that he can’t control himself or his feelings with the same intentionality that he wields on set. His personal life generates the same intensity of feeling that he wills into his work, but without the oracular safety net that comes with directing from a script. The possibility of separating the art from the artist turns out to be a far more compelling question when it’s framed as an act of self-mutilation, and the sense of internalized violence that complements Tomas’ childlike neediness is one of the secret weapons that allow this relatively skeletal film to resonate as something greater than the sum of its parts.