Melbourne 2019 Review: MATTHIAS ET MAXIME, Xavier Dolan's Intimate Epic
French-Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan (there is no other word to describe him) has had a busy year. He has two films releasing in 2019, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan with a top-billed cast, and this far more intimate smaller drama doing the festival rounds, Matthias et Maxime represents both the best of Xavier Dolan’s oeuvre and a mature step forward in how restrained and tender his drama can be when not relying on a constant saturation of style.
Maxime, or Max, the heart of the film is played by Xavier Dolan himself; a quiet but spirited twenty-something with a traumatic past, a family burden and a birth mark on his face. Matthias, or Matt (Gabriel D'Almeida Freitas), is his childhood friend. They regularly party with their mates, including Matt’s girlfriend; drinking, smoking, and loving life.
When the duo are dared to appear in a student film, the scene requires a kiss between lovers. Not a particularly big deal, except for Matt who later spirals into confusion, self-loathing and antisocial behaviour when he realises his true feelings for Max. This is exacerbated by a deadline, one this film adheres to, with just days before Max is to depart for a few years to live and work in Australia. Separated by work and life commitments, the pair grow increasingly distant, yet there is a force neither can contend with, and as the days grow shorter can Matt be truthful despite the consequences?
Matthias et Maxime is a tale of gay romance, but actively avoids the tropes and well-worn clichés one might expect. The film is framed around the countdown before Max needs to fly out, the timeframe of departure creates the drama, putting extra pressure on Matt to act, and to act out. This is counter-balanced by supporting friends and family who bring levity through hilarious and natural conversations throughout. Even when characters talk or yell over each other there is a sense of joy and freedom in these lived-in spaces where they gather, and the film is often hilarious because of their banter.
Matthias et Maxime as the title suggests, spends an equal amount of time with both characters, and the mundane day-to-day of their lives after the night of the kiss. The maturity and good-nature of Max is beautifully and tenderly portrayed by Xavier Dolan. Here is a young adult, unguarded and vulnerable who deserves to love and to be looked after. Instead Max cares for his recovering addict mother whose violent passive-aggressiveness wells up in him an anger that he manages to quell with his strong will.
Matt expresses his selfish love and confused desire in ways which lead him to be intentionally cruel to Max and can make for a frustrating watch. He plays with his expectations, including denying him his father’s job letter of recommendation and avoiding most social events. Matt also mopes around all day, snapping at his girlfriend and ignoring his boss, even when meeting for a promotion he stares off vacantly into space. The audience is aware of what he is thinking about though and how he is resentful and bitter of his feelings. The lingering point of how this will end remains throughout, and despite the film’s title, the struggle is all Matt’s.
Moments of pure emotion, or split-second decision are infused with Xavier Dolan’s signature style. He is still influenced by great works of Director’s before him. He pays homage in his own way through magical-realism, stylish cinematic flair and heightened drama which include his key themes of bad mothers, fleeting youth and transitioning to another state or place. Most importantly is his use of framing; the isolation is evident between the young men despite their close proximity, hidden emotions and furtive glances simmer in each scene and even indoors they are separated by a window or some physical distance. Smash cuts and zooms emphasize each character, and the awkward intimacy they display traps them together as the literal frame ratio changes, a technique Xavier Dolan has used effectively before.
Despite his cinematic tricks though, Matthias et Maxime is grounded in terrific and affecting acting. The two leads shine as they manage different kinds of change, but it is their surrounding group of childhood friends that gives the film a powerful sense of memory and fleeting nostalgia. Xavier Dolan has matured as a Director and his restrained style lets the actors do a lot of the work here.