‘Passages’ fashions a sexy and sharp examination of infidelity | Screens

‘Passages’ fashions a sexy and sharp examination of infidelity | Screens

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‘Passages’ fashions a sexy and sharp examination of infidelity | Screens
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You can tell Martin and Tomas are a couple in trouble just by looking in their closets. Martin (Ben Whishaw) is a British artist who favors soft henleys and cardigans, while Tomas (Franz Rogowski) is a tempestuous German director who wears skin-tight sweaters and midriff-revealing half-shirts in unearthly colors, or baroque coats that make him look like an extra from “Dune.”

The wardrobes show that Martin is a man who desires stability and comfort, while Tomas is constantly focused on being noticed and desired by others. When the couple finally confront each other at the end of Ira Sachs’ “Passages,” and Tomas is wearing a tuxedo and Martin is in sweatpants, you know it’s over.

That attention to fashion is emblematic of how carefully and insightfully Sachs examines his characters, observing their flaws and triumphs in exacting detail. Sachs excels in human dramas, especially looking at the complexities of relationships in crisis (“Love is Strange,” “Forty Shades of Blue”).

In “Passages,” the American writer-director takes that fascination and dives headlong into the milieu of European art cinema, with a heady, sexy, messy film that may be his most entertaining. It opens Friday at AMC Fitchburg 18.

Martin and Tomas are married and live in Paris, and it’s unclear exactly how open their marriage is (perhaps to them even more than to the audience). At a disco, the verbal Martin is clearly ill at ease as the sensuous Tomas roils around on the dance floor, and Martin goes home early. Tomas goes home too, with schoolteacher Agathe (Adèle Exarchopolous) who he meets. The sex scenes in “Passages” are explicit enough to earn the film an “unrated” designation, bracing in their emotional honesty.

The next morning, Tomas confesses his infidelity almost immediately, and Martin tries to brush it off as a one-night-stand. But Tomas insists that it was more than that (“I felt something I haven’t felt in a long time”), and wants to continue the relationship while staying married to Martin.

Yeah, that’ll work out. All three corners of the love triangle give it their best shot, but Sachs (with co-writer Mauricio Zacharias) show how the relationships slowly fall apart, as the characters’ self-image of themselves as liberated free thinkers run up against their deep-seated jealousies and suspicions. This includes, surprisingly, Tomas, who resents it when Martin starts his own side affair with a writer.

While Tomas is self-centered and oblivious to the damage he causes — at some point, it seems like Martin and Agathe are not so much in a relationship with him as co-parenting him — “Passages” doesn’t pass judgment on anyone. Instead, with a sharp eye and a rueful wit, it explores the lives of characters who are the architects of their own downfall, and seem to learn nothing from the experience.

 


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‘Passages’ fashions a sexy and sharp examination of infidelity | Screens

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