"When I think about these films," says Ira Sachs, "what they have in common is that at the center is strength and vulnerability." For the writer, director and producer — considered one of indie cinema's greatest filmmakers — at least one of his eclectic selections served as a direct influence on his latest film, Passages.
Passages sees Sachs reunite with writer Mauricio Zacharias, with whom he co-penned Love Is Strange (2014), Married Life (2007), and Little Men (2016). Like those films, his latest is an exploration of sex and relationships — one that earned a rare NC-17 rating from the MPA. (Sachs rejected the rating and so the film will be released unrated.)
The Paris-set love triangle centers around a film director, Tomas (German actor Franz Rogowski) and his husband, Martin (Ben Whishaw), whose marriage is tested when the former begins a passionate affair with a young woman, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos.
The New York-based Sachs admits Passages is an unashamedly European movie "made by an unashamedly American film director." As he explains, "I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and I was raised on Hollywood cinema and European cinema."
Below, Sachs shares with A.frame five films that have informed his work as much as they have shaped his view on the world, even suggesting possible double bills for those down for a blind date with cinema.
Written and Directed by: Jean Eustache
A lot of the films that I am most moved by end up being about adolescence. The precariousness of the performers in the moment, the risk that teenagers take, is so beautifully cinematic. It represents what I'm always looking for in a film, which is the impact and the depth of the moment. With young actors, particularly 12 and 13-year-olds like this film details, the vulnerability is so expressive, and I'm always looking for expressive kinds of cinema. Mes Petites Amoureuses is also a movie in which light and movement are so perfect you feel like you're there in another lost time. I connect Eustache to Proust in terms of how he creates images that take us back as viewers to our own past.
Directed by: Elia Kazan | Written by: William Inge
If you've seen Splendor in the Grass, you don't even need to ask me why I like it. It's one of the most beautiful films ever made. It's also Hollywood cinema in a moment that was divine. The combination of color and emotion is extraordinary. Natalie Wood gives one of her greatest, most iconic performances. It's so raw. Splendor in the Grass should be a double feature with David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. They're both films that understand the beauty as well as the utter violence of being young. It ends with one of the greatest scenes ever made, which is when Natalie Wood visits Warren Beatty's character, now married with children and living on a farm. She's wearing white gloves, and he's wearing overalls. For me, it's a scene in cinema that I come back to as if it's part of my own life and something I experienced.
Directed by: Chantal Akerman | Written by: Chantal Akerman, Eric de Kuyper, and Paul Paquay
Je Tu Il Elle was made when Chantal Akerman was in her early 20s, and she stars in the film. In one scene, she plays a woman who is by herself and going through a breakdown. In the next scene, she's with a truck driver who wants to have sex with her. In the third scene, she's with her female lover coming back together, experiencing sexual intimacy, and sharing each of those things with the audience in a rigorous and human way. Ackerman plays the lead character so brave. I look at that film as a challenge to myself to be brave and to expose myself in ways that are human to the audience. Certain films are provocations to me as an artist about what is possible and how true I should try to be.
Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder | Written by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Pea Fröhlich and Peter Märthesheimer
Veronika Voss is a loose remake of Sunset Boulevard. It's about an aging German movie star who has been put out to pasture, becomes addicted to heroin, and can't quite dig herself out. She ends up in a white room in a black-and-white film, which is all white at this point, unable to leave the room and only able to turn to the bottle of heroin by her bed. It's extreme, and it's super melodramatic in a way that is true. Melodrama is only good when it's not melodramatic, because it has to have depth. If you use the director Douglas Sirk as an example of melodrama, then Fassbinder can be called melodrama. It's almost impossible to watch. I look at Fassbinder's films, and I think sometimes he had it wrong and life is not that hard. But then occasionally, I think Fassbinder knew best.
Directed by: William Wyler | Written by: Sidney Howard
Film historian Jeanine Basinger once said it was "the greatest Hollywood movie ever made about marriage." It's about a couple in their late 40s. The husband leaves his successful business and has enough money to do anything. He and his wife set off to Europe, and they both get entangled with other people. The double feature for Dodsworth is Rossellini's 1954 drama, Voyage to Italy. They are the same film in a certain way. They're both films about how hard it is to stay close as a married couple, as people in a long relationship, and how the smallest thing can be extraordinarily destructive.
Dodsworth was also a direct inspiration for Passages, because it was a triangulated film. What's interesting about a film like Dodsworth is that it is filled with ambiguity, and that is what I cherish so much in great Hollywood cinema. If you see Dodsworth and like it, make sure to watch The Best Years of Our Lives, which is equally tremendous in its contradictions. Every scene is as contradictory as Cassavetes.