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“When you return to Paris, I want you to stay away from me.” This is one line of many from Passages, the new film by American director Ira Sachs. The movie features lots of relatable dialogue and situations for anyone who has ever been in a complicated relationship.

Over the years Sachs has made several well-received independent dramas, such as 2012’s Keep the Lights On and 2016’s Little Men. In this film, however, Franz Rogowski (Undine), Ben Whishaw (No Time to Die) and Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Color) star in a somewhat sexy love story that subverts tropes we’ve come to expect from traditional romances. You’ll be turned on, you’ll be heartbroken — sometimes both at once.

The opening credits of Passages play over an exciting “movie within a movie” sequence: Tomas (Rogowski) is a filmmaker in Paris who seems very good at his job; we soon find out he’s married to Martin (Whishaw), but unfortunately after having started an affair with Agathe (Exarchopoulos), who appeared in the film he just finished shooting. It’s good to see Exarchopoulos again; most of us haven’t had much opportunity since her wrenching performance in Blue Is the Warmest Color opposite Léa Seydoux (Skyfall).

Sachs co-wrote the script himself, and it quickly becomes obvious why he’s such a confident writer of naturalistic dialogue. Passages is sort of about movies — or at least about one person deeply involved with movies — but mostly it’s about a marriage falling apart. We get glimpses not only into Tomas’ life during his marriage crisis but also into Martin and Agathe’s lives at their jobs; it’s just enough information, as Sachs might tell you himself, to “complete” these increasingly lovable/infuriating characters and therefore increase our emotional investment in the story as a whole.

Movies within movies are one thing; another thing that always works? Sex. The sex scenes in Passages are so sexy they’re almost unfair — we want more long after we’ve seen everything there is to see. There’s a raunchy sex scene at Tomas’ workplace that will make you laugh before it makes you worry, and much more. This is also why Passages sticks with you, long after the credits roll: It’s realistic. The film is relatable on many levels, but mostly because no matter who you are or where you come from, you should feel represented between these sheets. (For those looking to improve their skill set in this department, consider Sachs’ newest film Exhibit A.)

These long shots also provide us with the opportunity to see great acting. Rogowski’s performance will be remembered, and next year’s award season countdown should also catch Whishaw’s attention among Academy members. Look out for a third-act restaurant scene between Martin and Agathe that will knock you flat on your back. There is a conversation about what will happen in the future of this scandalous relationship, and then there is devastating news that we find out right as Martin leaves which leaves him speechless. This is Whishaw at his best — not saying anything.

Before the film reaches its midpoint, we get another notable long shot when German Tomas has dinner with French-speaking parents of Agathe. The language barrier here serves as a metaphorical signpost that this is where cultures clash and each person has their ideas about how things should be done when it comes to raising a family. It’s an uncomfortable scene because it’s so icy, and any person who has ever had an awkward conversation with in-laws or really any of your partner’s relatives whom you don’t agree eye-to-eye with will feel a pit form in their stomach watching it.

However — let me stress this — Passages has almost too many funny moments to count through Sachs’ cinema vérité method of achieving them. For example: Tomas and Martin bickering in bed might literally make you laugh until it hurts. The humor saves the movie from becoming too dark and makes us root for certain characters more than others.

And what helps in these efforts is that Passages subverts pretty much everything expected from romantic dramas (including the anticipated “big reveal” of an affair during its third act). Instead, this betrayal comes early on –– like within the first 30 minutes –– so all I’m thinking now is “uh… where does it go from here?” Let me put it this way: our main character Tomas proves himself to be a jackass in many different areas of life, as evidenced by his reckless handling of both bicycle and vehicle. The “passages” he makes throughout the course of this movie will have you more than locked in from start to finish, I promise.

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