Bodies and Faces/Passages and Rubens

Passages is a v good fuck-about-and-find-out 3-hander. Was it Agnes Varda who said that film is all about faces? If it was she said it better, but ever since I heard it I notice it, both in film and as a qualifying aspect of television. It’s not just about size of screen, or rather the size of screen is clearly a cause of the historical importance of the face in cinema so that it is an intrinsic aspect of film, film as method, film as perception, film as definably different from television.

The film is also all about bodies: the shapes they form in repose, in interaction, in sex, differently for gay and straight sex, clothed and unclothed and partially clothed. This care is clearly identified at the beginning of the film, with director Tomas (Franz Rogowski – wonderful throughout) berating an extra for how they hold themselves in a scene. One frame particularly sticks in the mind, where Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos) lies on the bed in abandoned, freshly-realised grief, a body-tight blue dress starkly defining the shape of her body in cello-profile against the white wall.

Or here, as an example of many such well-composed scenes of interpersonal relation, in a complex breakdown of desire and love:

Ira Sachs on Passages: “It's a film without shame.” - A Rabbit's Foot

The Rubens & Women exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery reminded me of seeing Passages. I went on a whim, after some morning reading about Charles I’s court, the combination of moral order and aesthetic richness, and his love of Rubens. Rubens is of course well-known, you might say notorious, for his exuberant females, and people as ‘tubs of guts’ as I think Wyndham Lewis had it. Fleshy, abundant, licentious. What the exhibition does well (as you would hope) is put women’s faces and expressions at the centre, particularly in a very striking first gallery that’s worth the entry price in itself.

Along with a very good very self-portrait, it comprises an exceptional set of portraits of women showing intelligence, vigour, wit and amusement. Going to the sketches and studies in the later galleries, through to the larger compositions, you can see that insight and care Rubens brought to his portrayal of women’s faces carry through. In particular  – in what I think is a famous Rubens, Diana Returning from the Hunt – the expressions show the same intelligence and wit, and wry evasion of the lusty satyrs. The composition is boldly, perhaps even crudely, balanced and divided by the central staff, in an overall dynamic similar to what Sachs is doing at a more domestic level.

So, back to Passages. Rogowski and Exarchopoulos are both fantastic. Is Wishaw overrated though? He does his thing very well by and large. A sort of practical sensitivity, bordering occasionally on primness and a sort of ironically self-aware rectitude. And as a face and a body here he does very well – very expressive face, broomhandle body in a straight coat when Tomas moves out. But his tears in one scene at the end felt almost embarrassing (at a technical level) to watch, and the whole performance made me wonder how much latitude he has. I should shut up though, as his performance is very good, particular in ensemble, and I can’t act for toffee (an early King John when I was 7 aside).  He’s clearly a very talented actor.

It’s an excellent film – music in particular is used beautifully throughout, one scene built round the lovely Won’t You Buy My Sweet Bloomin Lavender? is memorable.

And omg the drip is pure gold throughout.


  • Will the role of the face in film change with the increasing incursion of small screen presentation of films?
  • Is Rogowski as good in everything he does? (Evidence from Transit says yes)
  • Is Wishaw overrated? (Jury out – I quite liked him in London Spy, though that doesn’t deviate from the charge tbh)
  • Where do they get their clothes?

Author: diasyrmus

A melancholy emblem of parish cruelty.

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