By introducing the world to Tomas (Franz Rogowski) in his brilliant new queer drama Passages, Ira Sachs’ has introduced us to one of the most captivatingly unlikeable characters in recent queer cinema history.
There are very few redeeming features of Tomas, the protagonist at the centre of Ira Sachs’ Passages, which landed in UK cinemas on Friday (1 September).
The romantic drama tracks Tomas at the centre of a queer love triangle. There’s his emotionally spent husband and professional printer Martin, played by A Very English Scandal star Ben Whishaw, while French Blue Is The Warmest Colour actor Adèle Exarchopoulos is Agathe, a teacher and woman who Tomas nonchalantly begins an affair with.
Tomas is insufferable from the film’s very beginning. As a film director, he opens the first scene by scolding one of his actors in front of the rest of the cast. It’s humiliating, and the first red flag is raised before the epicentre of his egocentrism – his romantic relationships – are even introduced.
Ah, his relationships. His marriage to Martin appears fraught from the very beginning. When Martin, who is disconcertingly reserved in comparison to his husband, declines to stay late at Tomas’s wrap party, the latter decides to seek out sex with Agathe, the very first person who shows an iota of interest in him.
To add vicious insult to injury, Tomas’s attempt at reconciling with his infidelity is woeful. “I had sex with a woman last night,” he tells Martin matter-of-factly and without apology the next day. “Can I tell you about it?”
The brazen actions of our mercurial main man don’t end there. As he flits between the warmth of his husband and the heat of his new lover, Tomas leaves a trail of heartbreak in his wake. In one uncompromisingly overt sex scene between him and Martin, Agathe listens and weeps silently in the room next door. Then, when Agathe falls pregnant, Tomas is overjoyed – because it means he and Martin might get to raise the child together.
Franz Rogowski (L) as Tomas, with Ben Whishaw (R) as his husband Martin. (Supplied)
In another toe-curling scene, he has lunch with Agathe’s very alarmed mother Edith (Caroline Chaniolleau) and unnamed father (Olivier Rabourdin). He turns up late – having just been at his house, with Martin – and is combative to their every question, and borderline aggressive. To Tomas, they are a mere inconvenience. To Tomas, everyone is a mere inconvenience when they’re not benefiting him.
Sachs has formed a character so devoid of self-awareness that he manages to enchant further with every unhinged decision he makes. It’s like car crash you can’t look away from: people are getting seriously hurt, but it’s strangely fascinating nonetheless.
It helps, of course, that this cast are fully equipped to deal with the tenderness and intensity that such a romantic drama requires. Whishaw is sublime as the stoic Martin, while Exarchopoulos manages her character’s complex situation with ease.
Rogowski is lucky that he as an actor is so alluring (read: gorgeous, with eyes that could pierce diamonds), that it is understandable why Martin and Agathe don’t call time on his bulls**t far, far earlier on in the film. If pretty privilege exists, Tomas has it.
Adèle Exarchopoulos is Agathe (L) in Passages. (Supplied)
In making Tomas so compelling, Passages also manages to become a film that’s not necessarily hinged on sexuality. This particular sexual dynamic, a man in a same-sex relationship deciding to have a fling with a woman, has very rarely been explored in cinema, yet it’s not the most intriguing thing about the film at all.
Though there is value in Tomas being queer. This year has inarguably been one of the most impressive when it comes to LGBTQ+ storytelling; from Red, White & Royal Blue to Bottoms, Heartstopper to Strange Way of Life. Positive LGBTQ+ visibility on-screen is evolving, yet through Tomas, we’re getting a much-needed dose of queer f**kboy representation.
There is no world in which the audience is on Tomas’s side, and Rogowski’s character will never be anyone’s favourite. Yet he is utterly unforgettable.
Passages is in UK and Irish cinemas now.