Carbon Arc Cinema review: Passages

I’m the new Artistic Director at Carbon Arc Cinema, part of a group of programmers who choose the films we screen. 

Directed by Ira Sachs | Written by Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias, and Arlette Langmann | 91 min | Carbon Arc Cinema 

This is the first feature to screen at Carbon Arc Cinema under the auspices of my time as Artistic Director, and it’s a good one.

Sachs is an American independent filmmaker whose best known film is probably the same-sex drama Love Is Strange from 2014 starring Alfred Molina and John Lithgow. This one is set in Paris, starting on a film set. The filmmaker, Tomas (Franz Rogowski), is German. He’s demanding and intense. He’s married to a Brit, Martin (Ben Whishaw), but hits on a woman, Agathe ( Adèle Exarchopoulos, The Five Devils). He starts an affair with her and leaves his husband, but the strength of their bond complicates both relationships, leading to a toxic love triangle.

The film famously was given an NC-17 rating for its sex scenes, of which Sachs was understandably critical — the ones between the men are more explicit than the heterosexual sex scenes. He and the distributor, Mubi, chose to release the film unrated. (Mongrel is the distributor in Canada.)

Passages is a riposte to those who say sex in movies is either pointless or just titillating — the film uses the characters’ pursuit of pleasure as a way for the audience to better understand them and their relationships. It would be a far poorer picture without it.

The film uses Rogowski’s compulsive energy as its hub, with Whishaw and Exarchopoulos’ characters orbiting around him, victims to his desires and inability to commit to one person. When, finally, we’re treated to a scene between Martin and Agathe, there’s an ease between them, a kindness, that’s missing in scenes with Franz.

The film isn’t always an easy watch, with Rogowski delivering a performance that often reads as addiction and sociopathy, but his lack of empathy and maturity has consequences and the film is honest about that. Potent stuff.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.