The movies “Keep The Lights On” (2012), “Love Is Strange” (2014), and “Little Men” (2016), comprise what queer filmmaker Ira Sachs has called his New York real estate trilogy. Beginning in 2019, with the Portugal-set “Frankie” (starring Isabelle Huppert), Sachs has shifted his settings overseas. His new film, “Passages” (Mubi), is set in Paris.
Sachs, who is a master of domestic distress, doesn’t disappoint with “Passages.” Tomas (Franz Rogowski) and Martin (out actor Ben Whishaw) are a married gay couple living in Paris for six years. Tomas is a movie director and Martin is a printmaker. They couldn’t possibly be more different from each other. Martin is reserved and thoughtful, while Tomas is outgoing and untamed.
How outgoing? At the wrap party for his movie, after dancing with a young schoolteacher named Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos), Tomas has sex with her and spends the night in her bed. The next morning at home, a guilty Tomas initially lies to Martin about where he was, then admits to having sex with a woman.
Martin loves his husband and chalks it up to Tomas’ behavior whenever he finishes making a movie. But a change is taking place in Tomas, who has sex with Agathe again, this time in his office. At their country house, Tomas is distant from Martin, but asks him to be patient with him.
At an intimate dinner party, Martin’s agent Clément (William Nadylam) brings novelist Amad (Erwan Kepoa Falé) as his guest. Martin and Amad hit it off. When Tomas sees Martin reading Amad’s novel, he becomes jealous, but it’s a perfect illustration of Tomas’ double standard, because he continues to see Agathe, and yet expects Martin to sit idly by.
This tension is at the very heart of the movie. It ratchets up when Martin makes plans to sell the country house. After Tomas moves in with Agathe, Martin insists that he gives up his keys to their apartment. Watching this relationship deteriorate is almost as painful for the viewer as it is for the characters. When Tomas tells Martin that Agathe is pregnant, we can see that the relationship has reached its end.
But hold on! Tomas, who grows increasingly unpleasant in every scene, begins to get his comeuppance. Agathe’s mother Edith (Caroline Chaniolleau) challenges him on his inability to commit to her daughter. The first screening of his movie doesn’t go well. He becomes extremely jealous of Martin and Amad having a relationship. Just in case you might have thought otherwise, the situation is not good or healthy for anyone involved.
Sachs and co-screenwriters Mauricio Zacharias and Arlette Langmann have crafted a very emotional story and one that is also dramatically French. It’s as sexy (watch for the Martin and Tomas sex scene!) as it is sorrowful. The three leads, especially Whishaw and Rogowski, are all more than up to the task at hand.