February 2, 2023

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Ira Sachs in the sexual drama ‘Passage’ at Sundance

4 min read

Ira Sachs doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would direct a sexually-charged drama. He’s soft-spoken, charming, a little egghead-ish (he references European films and filmmakers in a way that would confuse even the most rigorously-criterioned Channel viewer).

And yet that’s exactly what Sachs does with “Passages,” the story of a Thomas, played to vulpine perfection by filmmaker Franz Rogowski, who atomizes his marriage to Martin (Ben Whishaw) in order to pursue a tumultuous affair with Agatha (Adele). Exarchopoulos). But Thomas’ intense desire to have the things he doesn’t soon destroys that relationship as well. Sachs, the acclaimed filmmaker behind “Love is Strange” and “Little Man,” says he puts himself in all his movies, so is Rocking Thomas really his cinematic alter-ego?

“Someone very close to me once described me as a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” says Schacht, sounding rather sheepish about the admission. “And what I asked Franz was: Is Thomas a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a sheep in wolf’s clothing?”

Audiences at Sundance, where the film debuts on Jan. 23, may struggle to answer that question either. Thomas is alternately attractive and repulsive; He seems obsessed with establishing connections and then breaking them down in spectacular fashion as they have been forged. For Sachs, “Passages” also fulfilled a desire to get back behind the camera after a long absence from filmmaking after Covid halted production and the world went to hell.

“After so many months in the pandemic, one of the things I miss most in movies, as well as in life, is a certain amount of intimacy,” Schacht said. “I wanted to make a really intimate film, focusing on the individuals and the characters and their relationships in a way that was tense at the time, meaning that no one is safe, no one is safe, everyone is on edge.”

Charting the ups and downs of Thomas’ relationship means choreographing several sexually charged scenes.

“I don’t feel comfortable handling sexuality in film,” admits Sachs. “It’s challenging. I’m a modest person in many ways, but I believe for the story that those scenes are really significant. They change the audience’s sense of what’s at stake, because they remind people that physical things are also happening with these three characters who are in different relationships with different genders.”

A sexual sequence between Whishaw and Rogowoski also allows Sachs to challenge the audience in different ways, he says.

“It was important to me not to internalize the culture’s discomfort with the human body and gay men,” he says. “It’s pretty cool too. The way it is shot is not uncomfortable. There’s a very relaxed nature to how this film is told and it feels very casual and yet it’s not casual at all. Sometimes it’s important to be a little tough and wake people up.”

Sachs says the movie has some similarities to the rest of his work, as it is about a transitional moment in the lives of his characters. Thomas and Martin’s marriage has stalled, with Agatha looking for something more stable with Thomas than a one-night stand.

“I think it’s a film about the middle,” says Sachs. “In some ways all my films can be called ‘passages’. There is no beginning and no end. All these actors and these characters are 20 years younger than me. That is remarkable. They are at a stage in their lives where everything can change in an instant.”

In works like “Little Men” and “Love Is Strange,” both of which feature drawn-out battles in search of apartments, Sachs has shown a keen interest in where his characters live. “Passages,” which feature lengthy discussions about what to do about a weekend vacation cottage and the nuances of returning one’s keys after a relationship breaks down, also focus on real estate.

“You can’t separate character from economics,” Sachs said. “Economics is expressed in many ways in a film, but one way is where people live and what their homes look like Nothing to say but real estate. Do you have or don’t and what does it give a person in our culture to have certain advantages with space and wealth and privilege?”

For Sachs, that question is also deeply personal.

“All my films are in some way about men doing bad things or men behaving badly,” he says. “And it comes from a certain question about my own place in the world, which is both active because I make films about it and passive, because I enjoy my place in the world. The conflict between those two things is interesting to me.”

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