By Miruna Tiberiu
You’re in a dingy basement, painted in deep, muted blues and ochres. The camera moves languidly from conversation to conversation. Little by little, the event reveals itself; we are on the Parisian set of a film-within-a-film, also called Passages. Neurotic and eager to control everyone’s movements, the film’s director makes a poor young actor, clad in a camp period costume, walk up and down the stairs in painstaking detail, over and over again. “It’s not that you have to come down the staircase, it’s that you want to!” he exclaims exasperatedly. This director is called Tomas. We then follow his romantic endeavours for a year.
For an opening scene to set up the film’s fabric so well is an unbounded achievement. Director Ira Sachs reinvents the city of love in one fell swoop, dropping his characters into this realm of artificiality where a Baudelairean romanticised past – of flaneurs waltzing through life with the sole purpose of experiencing love and creating art from it – becomes the city of (post)modern love in the cinematic imaginary.
If Passages (2023) centres around one idea, it is that of desire. Needs left aside for the sake of wants. The film follows Tomas, a German film director living in Paris with his artist husband Martin (portrayed so poignantly by British national treasure Ben Whishaw). The former becomes involved with Agathe, a French primary school teacher who happens to work on his film set. What emerges is a study on love in the age of media artificiality, as the three pair up, break up, make up, and turn the focus of the romance away from the notion of couples and towards the refreshing realm of polyamory.