tops of sundance

Ben Whishaw shows his sexy side (and backside) in this intimate and honest Sundance favorite

A still from Passages by Ira Sachs, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

No doubt one of the most anticipated titles at this year’s very queer Sundance Film Festival was Passages, from celebrated gay filmmaker Ira Sachs (Keep The Lights On, Love Is Strange).

We were intrigued by its simple logline—”about two men who’ve been together for fifteen years and what happens when one of them has an affair with a woman”—but, now that we’ve seen it, we’re pleased to report that Sachs’ latest is even thornier, funnier, and much, much sexier than that lets on.

The couple in question is Martin and Tomas, played, respectively, by out star Ben Whishaw (Bright Star, Skyfall) and German actor Franz Rogowski, who received acclaim for his performance in the 2021’s excellent gay drama Great Freedom. From their first scenes, it’s clear that the pair has been together for quite some time, equally in tune with one another’s needs and annoyances.

Related: Modern Gay Classic — “Keep The Lights On”

Things are shaken up when Tomas sleeps with a woman he meets named Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos). We’re to understand it’s not the first time this has happened, but something’s different with Agathe. Or, perhaps its Tomas and Martin’s relationship that’s changed.

It’s not really a spoiler to say that the couple splits soon after, with Tomas—caught up in his fiery affair—moving in with Agathe, while Martin links up with a hot-shot author named Ahmad (Erwan Kepoa Falé). But Tomas and Martin have too much shared history for it to be that simple, and Tomas, in particular, is far too needy.

Image Credit: ‘Passages,’ Sundance Film Festival

Sachs’ direction is exacting but un-showy, creating plenty of space for his trio of central performances to breathe. Rogowski again proves why he’s an international star on the rise, imbuing Tomas with the kind of brash confidence that can only be born out of deep insecurity. Bouncing back and forth between lovers, his Tomas is queer chaos personified.

Exarchopoulos is fantastic, too, as the sensitive Agathe, giving her best performance since her Cannes-winning breakthrough in Blue Is The Warmest Color.

And Whishaw is as great as ever, but where he really surprises is in his willingness to leave it all on the screen. For an actor best known as James Bond’s buttoned-up tech guru Q and the voice of Paddington Bear, Whishaw is shockingly naked (in more ways than one) in Passages, delivering his sexiest performance yet.

Related: Ben Whishaw gets very candid about his sexuality in rare and revealing new interview

As was the case with the explicit comedy Rotting In The Sun, word traveled fast around Park City, Utah that Passages featured its fair share of sex and nudity. In the days leading up to its premiere, there was even a rumor that Ben Whishaw would “show h*le” in the film.

While that’s not quite what goes down, we can confirm that it is, indeed, a very erotic movie. An extended sex scene between Whishaw and Rogowski, in particular, had some jaws on the floor—explicit and revealing, but also passionate and artful.

For as much as you may want to shake these characters and tell them to “snap out of it,” Passages is ultimately a rewarding experience that examines the cross-sections of love, attraction, and intimacy. Our time at the Sundance Film Festival might be coming to a close, but we’ll be thinking about this one all year long.

Passages was picked up for distribution by MUBI and is set to hit theaters some time later this year.

Related: Mutts, theater gays, and great balls of fire: 10 LGBTQ+ movies from Sundance 2023 to stream at home