Dir.: Ira Sachs; Cast: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adele Exarchopoulos, Erwan Kepoa Fale; France/Germany 2023, 91 min.
A menage-a-trois goes wrong in a big way in this cruel love story from award-winning filmmaker Ira Sachs (Love is Strange).
In Paris two Germans and a Brit finds themselves in a Douglas Sirk style melodrama with feint echoes of Eric Rohmer. Sachs puts his personal slant on the many faces of sexuality in an absorbing and often upsetting gender war.
Lovers Tomas (Rogowski) and Martin (Whishaw) have a longstanding relationship although the aggressive and manipulative Tomas, a film director, has the upper hand with Martin reluctantly putting up with the endless humiliation just to keep it all running smoothly.
We first meet Tomas on set, as unpleasant and immature upstart. But after the film’s wrap party, Tomas takes a shine to Agathe (Exarchopoulos), a primary school teacher who drops her own boyfriend like a stone, as does Tomas, moving in with Adele shortly afterwards. This is not the first time Tomas has played the field with a woman, and pretty soon the cracks appear – and when Agathe falls pregnant her parents’ arrival only makes matters worse.
The switcheroo continues with Martin now in a relationship with writer Ahmad (Fale). But this is by now means the end because Tomas wants to show his omnipotence, and is still powerfully drawn to the dependable Martin, and soon the tables change again.
Tomas is a savage, and not a noble one. His hunger for emotional support, a real neediness born out of insecurity, collides with his brash manner and outlandish lies. He is not lovable at all, but his animalistic sex drive makes both Adele and Martin believe they are his chosen one. Sachs is very open in showing the couples’ intercourse, to the point of being graphic to the extreme. But all this has a place in a bitter struggle for love, with both Adele and Martin mistaking lust for the latter. For Tomas everything has to be an exciting thrill ride, no questions asked. He is a vicious child, a sociopath in the making, a time bomb ready to implode, and Rogowski is the actor to play him with his passionate intensity.
DoP Josee Deshaies has fun with her camerawork, keeping the wild sex and bitter tantrums under control: her images are never voyeuristic, she always finds a way back to show the humanity in facial expressions. Her portrait of Paris, the city of love, is sober: an ideal backcloth for a modern love story, even though it never feels like one. Sachs, the observer, delivers this minimalist feature with as much love as possible, taking sides only at the very end. AS
ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS FROM 1 SEPTEMBER 2023