SBS Productions, 2023
📷 : Pixabay
Movies and TV shows with a lot of dialog
Nonfamily dramas with strong adult and/or socioeconomic themes
For cinephiles who crave original stories and original characters, positivity can be found in a negative representation. Often, members of marginalized groups get depicted in film as perfect victims; constantly the targets of bullying and paragons of virtue. We tend to think of humanizing portrayals as showing the most admirable characteristics, but sometimes the true equality lies in everyone’s ability to be a douchebag. Tomas, the protagonist in Ira Sachs’s risqué drama Passages, serves as just such a character.
Set in modern-day France, Passages revolves around a complex, pansexual love triangle. Tomas (Franz Rogowski, Victoria), a German filmmaker, is married to his supportive husband Martin (Ben Whishaw, The Lobster). After a night out with friends, Tomas has an affair with Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue Is the Warmest Colour), a young school teacher. While it may seem like an inebriated lapse in judgment or momentary passion, he confesses to Martin, only to continue sleeping with Agathe. Though the terms of their marriage are never explicitly stated, it is clear that Tomas’s infidelity hurts Martin. The larger issue is that even in Tomas’s confession, he is more concerned with his own feelings and experiences than how he has made Martin feel, a recurring dynamic throughout the film.
At first glance, Tomas could come off as simply too impulsive to make a good partner. However, with every passing interaction, it becomes clearer that he will do whatever suits his own best interest in the moment. Devoid of any remorse for his actions, Tomas lacks the sensitivity to comfort either of his lovers when they are in a moment of emotional need, instead manipulating them whenever he can. When Martin begins seeing Amad (Erwan Kepoa Falé, Winter Boy), a novelist who genuinely cares for him, Tomas not only seethes but runs interference in their romance whenever the opportunity presents itself. When Agathe is busy or needs time to herself, he consistently hounds her for attention. Upon meeting her parents, he quickly starts an argument with Agathe’s mother to avoid any questions about his long-term plans (because he doesn’t have them). Tomas is not only unfocused but also shows complete disregard for the people he claims to care for.
All of these negative qualities Tomas possesses could turn you completely off of this erotic French indie. Maybe you would rather see a wholesome protagonist fighting to make a relationship work despite his or her own shortcomings. However, there is a refreshing quality to watching an irredeemable character of a marginalized background. It feels true to anyone else’s experience, as we can often be our own worst enemies. Passages shows the complexities that a same-sex couple could have from within their relationship, rather than inserting a homophobic antagonist from the outside world. Depicting the gaping flaws of one partner in a relationship and how the other struggles to hold it together is a particularly humanizing representation. Many have occupied one role or the other at least as much as they have experienced the “us against the world” narrative many romantic dramas put forth.
Passages does not merely portray the arguments and power struggles of relationships; it also portrays the physical element. The film has its fair share of nudity and intercourse, not pulling a single punch. While some moviegoers find such scenes superfluous to the plot, the vanity and raunchiness actually makes perfect sense for a movie all about relationships and what keeps them going through tough times. The focus on Tomas’s sexuality adds another layer to the love triangle, making him slightly more appealing in spite of his complete inability to provide emotional support. The sex scenes serve as a collective symbol of each character’s vulnerability, an aspect that the protagonist consistently preys on.
Watching Passages brings to mind the late 2000s romantic drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona, in which two friends visit Spain for the summer and become involved with a painter whose ex-wife comes back into the fold. Both films have numerous displays of intimacy, complicated relationship dynamics, and beautiful cities known for encouraging romance as backdrops. Not to mention some selfish and impulsive characters that may make you roll your eyes.