Tomas and Martin are a gay couple living in Paris whose marriage is thrown into crisis when Tomas impulsively begins a passionate affair with young schoolteacher Agathe. But when Martin begins an affair of his own, Tomas must confront life decisions he may be unprepared—or unwilling—to deal with.
Seattle International Film Festival 2023: Film #18
Thomas is riding his bike at full speed on the sidewalk of other peoples' lives. This was difficult viewing, although in a really good way. I was a bit lost at sea in the first ten to fifteen minutes, but my enjoyment of this film increased in inverse proportion to the degree to which it was shown how Thomas was acting like a wrecking ball through the lives of others, his obvious inability to not cause harm raising charged questions about the nature of individual agency and blame. There was a secondary pleasure to be had in watching a film that has countless well-observed character traits performed so naturally as well, in addition to the domestic and artistic spaces looking quite genuinely lived-in, quite at odds with the weirdly sterile homes of other films that betray no history whatsoever. Also disarmingly realistic were the handful of extended sex scenes, which were some of most convincing performances I can recall.
Rogowski’s performance as the restless, almost unconsciously impish Tomas might be praised as sublime for the way it transcends any attempt to pigeonhole the character as just another abusive male director. […] What maintains our sympathy for [him] is the pathetic, occasionally comic obliviousness that emanates from the character. There’s a nearly honest boyish innocence to Tomas, one that helps us understand why [Ben] Wishaw’s comparably composed Martin might continue to be disarmed by an unfaithful partner who makes such selfish emotional demands of him. Wishaw makes Martin’s devastation palpable as the man seesaws between utter exasperation and loving tolerance, capturing in direct but un-didactic fashion how Tomas’s bull-in-a-china-shop behavior derails any attempt at healing in the wake of their relationship’s disintegration. [And] as we watch him pedal with increasing franticness between the people who love him beyond any logical justification, it’s hard not to think: there, but for the grace of the superego, go I.
— Pat Brown (Slant)
There are vague shades of The Souvenir, which offered a similarly uneasy form of voyeurism, watching smart people make stupid relationship decisions that can be easily judged with distance by some but horribly easy to empathise with for those who have been closer to such toxicity
— Benjamin Lee (The Guardian)
It’s a film about a director, but not really about filmmaking. I thought that was a very interesting choice. It’s treated like just another job.
— Steve Erickson (The Film Stage)
One of the primary delights of Passages derives from the permission Sachs grants his actors to be callous, calculating, covetous, submissive, and self-deluding—in other words, emotionally complex in the least sanitized meaning of the term—without agonizing over or apologizing for their moral characters. […] At times, Passages cannot help but read as a rejoinder and provocation to representation-minded audiences seeking defanged, overwhelmingly positive depictions of queer persons. The film also arrives at a moment when a vocal portion of the culture is intent on re-litigating the ethics and efficacy of the increasingly nonexistent sex scene, rashly casting it as an issue of consent and deeming those who want to see sex on screen as immoral voyeurs. […] It is next to impossible to recall the last film told largely in English where sex between two men has been this forthright, unembarrassed, and bracingly erotic. […] Only Erwan Kepoa Falé’s Ahmed, a sweet-tempered novelist with whom Martin strikes up his own dalliance, is let down by the screenplay, left on the margins of the film to offer warnings and wisdom about characters more layered than him.
— Matthew Eng (Reverse Shot)
The film opens on the set of Tomas's latest feature, where he is seen growing increasingly frustrated as he micromanages an actor struggling to perform nonchalant enjoyment. This, it turns out, is a sideways case study in Tomas's whole problem: he wants the people around him to be happy and carefree, and to dictate their actions and feelings, and for them to like it, and to be able to change his mind at will, and for them to like that too. […] Passages is interested in asking whether what seems like sharing information might in fact be avoiding conversation; whether what seems like patience might in fact be co-depdence; whether what seems like happy-go-lucky umpulsiveness might in fact be a way of asserting distance and control with undeired consequences.
— Ben Walters (Sight and Sound September 2023)