Film Notes: PASSAGES

7 p.m. Friday, March 1
Humanities Quadrangle, Room L02 (320 York)
Introduction by Ira Sachs and Brian Meacham
Film Notes by Brian Meacham

Directed by Ira Sachs (2023), 91 mins
Written by Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias
Cinematography by Jos
ée Deshaies
Produced by SBS Productions and KNM
Starring Franz Rogowski, Ad
èle Exarchopoulos, Ben Whishaw, Erwan Kepoa Falé, Arcadi Radeff, and Léa Boublil

In a way, the story of Ira Sachs’ Passages begins with another film, Michael Haneke’s 2017 feature Happy End, and Franz Rogowski’s performance in that film—specifically, his mesmerizing karaoke rendition of Sia’s “Chandelier,” which Sachs has described as “cinema incarnate.” After seeing Rogowski’s turn as an alcoholic scion of the family construction business who may be responsible for the death of a worker, Sachs decided to write a film for the actor, and Passages was born.

But the story of Passages also begins decades before, during a semester away from Yale, which Sachs spent in Paris. In a 2020 Yale Film Archive interview, Sachs recounted “In 1986, I moved for a semester to Paris, and I didn’t enroll in school, and I didn’t have any friends, and I didn’t speak French very well… I saw 197 movies over a three-month period.” After growing up devoted to theater, Sachs returned to Yale with the sense that film was the artistic world in which he felt most comfortable.

Ira Sachs was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1965. He got involved with the Memphis Children’s Theatre in the sixth grade, and by the time he was a senior in high school, he made his directorial debut, helming a production of Our Town. When he came to Yale, he worked on dozens of experimental theater productions.

After his transformative experience in Paris, Sachs shifted his focus to film theory and film studies within his literature major, and after graduation, he applied to film school. After being rejected from NYU, UCLA, and USC, Sachs moved to New York in 1988 and took a job as assistant to director Norman Rene on the seminal film about New Yorkers confronting the AIDS crisis, Longtime Companion (1989).

Sachs began making his own short films in the early 1990s, and his second film, Lady (1994) screened at the Sundance Film Festival and received distribution through Frameline Distribution. His first feature film, The Delta (1997), traveled the festival circuit and received rave reviews for its depiction of the sexual identity struggle of a young white man in the LGBT community in Memphis, and the complex racial and class differences between him and the men he meets. In a description that might have been used again in 2023 to describe his work on Passages, IndieWire’s Cheri Barner noted at the time that The Delta had “a style reminiscent of Fassbinder; Sachs is an American shooting in a European fashion.”

Passages tells the story of a German filmmaker, Tomas (Franz Rogowski), living in Paris with his husband, Martin (Ben Whishaw), and the chaos that ensues when Tomas begins a relationship with a young primary school teacher, Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos).

When discussing why he chose to set and shoot the film in Paris, Sachs explained, “I shot it in Paris because I know the city very well. I’ve had relationships there and I’ve had breakups there and I’ve had sex there and I’ve cried there. So I feel really comfortable in Paris. And I also know what life is like intimately there.”

The film, and especially Rogowski’s performance, has struck a chord with critics and filmgoers the world over, with Rogowski winning the Best Actor award from the New York Fim Critics Circle. Rogowski’s wardrobe, masterfully overseen by costume designer Khadija Zeggaï, has taken on a life of its own, with viewers taking inspiration from Tomas’s crop tops, leopard print pants, and eye-catching sweaters, and wearing similar pieces to screenings of the film. Agathe and Martin each have their own distinctive and memorable outfits, as well, and MUBI even printed a Passages look book profiling the characters’ various ensembles.

DID YOU KNOW: When his father, a real estate developer, moved to Park City, Utah, in 1983 after opening a hotel there in the late 1970s, Ira Sachs went with him, and attended the Sundance Film Festival (when it was still known as the U.S. Film Festival). Since then, seven of Sachs’ films have screened at the festival, including Forty Shades of Blue (2005), which won the Grand Jury Prize, and Passages, which premiered at the festival and was bought by MUBI in January, 2023.

Presented in Treasures from the Yale Film Archive, with support from Paul L. Joskow '70 M.Phil., '72 Ph.D. Printed Film Notes are distributed to the audience before each Treasures screening.

Last modified: 
Friday, March 1, 2024 - 3:07pm