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Ira Sachs’ recent film, unfortunately, and thus fascinatingly, portrays a character who destroys his marriage in order not to be known. The drama was co-written by Sachs with long-time collaborator Mauricio Zacharias. It starts on the set of Tomas’ film “Passages,” directed by himself and starring Franz Rogowski as Tomas. Here is an early indication that Tomas will only work through his desire for control without any concession: providing very specific notes that turn out to be demeaning rather than helpful.

Rogowski’s most noted performances had been in tragic love stories like those for German director Christian Petzold (Transit, Undine). However, this time around he is different in exquisite animal print clothes and crop tops. Possibly due to confusion over what he wants, Tomas’ gentle approach becomes part of his manipulations; as a result, Martin (played by Ben Whishaw) quietly fumes at such inattention and shortsightedness from Tomas.

Tomas soon begins an intense romance with Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos), whom he meets at a wrap party following the completion of The movie within the movie. Sachs’ slow-paced direction guides us through hot sex scenes which are made more attractive by their simplicity and freshness, tearing him away from marriage’s often rewarding labor keeping both parties aware of each other’s patterns. Agathe can see through the protagonist’s intentions; she knows when Thomas just desires something else because her character has both excitement and caution at once while played by Exarchopoulos. The changeable feelings captured here are seductive themselves – those little lies that make everything look perfect again. And once again we have the sense that cinema is seducing us when Thomas returns to Martin, their sex scenes together hinting at love-making so sensuous it could only be undone by Thomas.

Martin and Agathe are both heart-breaking characters: fully aware of how Tomas is about to hurt them but repeatedly drawn into his orbit regardless. To Tomas, they’re vessels through which to find himself. He’s ignorant of what they feel, and the rich inner lives with which Whishaw and Exarchopoulos portray them only further illustrate that fact. The lush costuming and cozy sets make for a fascinating push and pull as the characters experience themselves: Tomas both desires this closeness but also rejects it at every other chance he gets, allergic to responsibility. This is a captivating tale of self-immolation due to fear of intimacy and an irrepressible need for it.

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