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by Kyle Sanders
From acclaimed filmmaker Paul Schrader (First Reformed, The Card Counter), comes this story about a fastidious horticulturist named Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) who is tasked by his wealthy and eccentric employer (Sigourney Weaver) to take on her grand-niece as a new apprentice.
Just like the anti-hero from his Taxi Driver screenplay, Schraeder presents us with another "Travis Bickle-esque" character (only this time with a green thumb!) inspired to rescue a young damsel-in-distress while combating his own dark secrets that refuse to stay buried. Master Gardener continues the trend of Schrader's recent films about tortured men reckoning with the past, present, and future.
Not since Sunday, Bloody Sunday has there been a love triangle more complicated, more frustrating, or more sexy than in Passages. Transit's Franz Rogowski stars as Tomas, a filmmaker who compulsively controls his actors' every movement, but seems unable to manage any behaviors of his own in real life. This includes striking up an affair with a young school teacher named Agathe (Adele Exarchopoulos).
It would seem innocent enough if it weren't for his marriage to another man (Ben Whishaw). Tomas finds the affair with the opposite sex an exciting experience that he happily discloses with hubby Martin--much to Martin's chagrin. Tomas ends his relationship with Martin in favor of Agathe, but once Martin moves on to someone else, Tomas turns his attention back to his husband.
The movie's title implies that Tomas' desires take multiple routes, even at the cost of those he loves. And you will not root for him either. From the very beginning, we meet Tomas needling his actors, whining in a voice I can only describe as "Orson Welles with a lisp." Yet there is something oddly alluring with Rogowski's performance, right down to the fashion choices which seemingly represent his tortured journey (it's almost too on-the-nose as Tomas contemplates a change of course, all the while wearing a loosely-knitted sweater barely holding together at its seams).
You sympathize more with the performances of Exarchopoulos and Whishaw, understanding their growing attraction to such an unpredictable character even as their patience continues to grow thin. Exarchopoulos radiates a sexual innocence that sobers into heartbreak the more she learns of her new lover's behaviors.
Whishaw is a wonder as the put-upon husband, with his brooding eyes and seething breaths, this is a man whose patient exterior has started to crack. You'll find yourself rooting for them to get wise and run as far away from Tomas' toxicity as possible. Both performers have great dramatic moments of confrontation.
Passages works as an exercise of conflicted love. As the old saying goes, "the heart wants what it wants," but the follow-up question this film wants answered is "what will the heart do once it gets what it wants?" What the film finds as the answer is at once incredibly frustrating yet resoundingly human.
The 2023 Chicago Critics Film Festival screens from May 5th to May 11th at the Music Box Theatre
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