Matthias & Maxime

 

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Two men find themselves at a crossroads, a last chance to alter the direction of their lives. 

 
Matthias & Maxime  

Gabriel D'Almeida Freitas and Xavier Dolan

 

Those who adore the work of the Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan certainly need to see this latest piece of his and to make their own assessment of it. Matthias & Maxime is his eighth feature since starting out in 2009 with I Killed My Mother so he has been relatively prolific. For my own part I have often regarded him as overpraised, one example being 2013's Tom at the Farm which exhibited his liking for melodrama as well as his fondness for varying the screen ratio in the course of a single film, a device that I find distracting. It's present again in this latest film albeit less prominently, but Matthias & Maxime does find him turning his back on melodrama. Consequently, it has been seen as offering a change of tone in his work and that has pleased some while disappointing others.

 

I myself regard this new approach as working well to begin with since it helps us to view Matthias (Gabriel D'Almeida Freitas) and Maxime (Dolan himself) and their friends as highly believable characters. They are a group who have known each other since at least student days and they frequently party together. However, despite having now reached their thirties, they are not necessarily settled. Matthias is a lawyer who can expect promotion but is not certain that he has truly found the path in life that he wants although he does have a girlfriend, Sarah (Marilyn Castonguay). Maxime, in contrast, is planning to leave Montreal for Australia. This will take him away from his domineering and dependent mother (Anne Dorval) who has treated him as her carer, a role that luckily can be taken over by her sister (Louise Bombardier) in Maxime's absence, be that for two years or longer.

 

Dolan is on his best acting form as Maxime and Freitas is well cast as Matthias. Indeed, all of the players convince including Harris Dickinson in an intriguing cameo role. That's important because on the surface very little actually occurs during the film's running time of virtually two hours. But what is happening indirectly is that Matthias is for the first time giving real consideration to Maxime's claim that they once kissed way back in high school. The circumstances that bring this up are very well judged by Dolan since they could so easily have felt like a self-conscious plot contrivance but in the event emerge very believably. Erika (Camille Felton), the younger sister of one of the group, is making a film and plans to shoot scenes during one of their weekend gatherings. When two actors fail to turn up for a brief scene she looks for replacements and by chance Matthias and Maxime are the ones who get roped in. Although in the film's neatest touch the scene they are required to enact is not actually shown to us, it turns out to involve two men kissing. The question now posed is what this may now bring to the surface and whether or not Maxime will leave Canada as planned.

 

This low-key mode fits the material well for an hour or so, but when the film gets into its second half and starts to indulge some stylised moments I find myself longing for a stronger storyline and a more satisfying conclusion. Nevertheless, some have seen this film as a clear return to form following the flop of its immediate predecessor never released here (2018's The Death and Life of John F. Donovan) and the disappointment felt over 2016's It's Only the End of the World. The fact that for all its imperfections I rather liked the latter illustrates the extent to which Dolan's work often arouses dissent. That makes it all the more apt that I should stress that Matthias & Maxime contains enough of quality to make it worth checking out for yourself. It certainly is different from its predecessors even though I continue to find Dolan a self-indulgent filmmaker - in this case, however, that aspect lies not in excessive gestures but in letting the piece ramble on loosely when it might have built firmly towards an affecting conclusion.

  

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Gabriel D'Almeida Freitas, Xavier Dolan, Pier-Luc Funk, Harris Dickinson, Anne Dorval, Marilyn Castonguay, Louise Bombardier, Catherine Brunet, Antoine Pilou, Alexandre Bourgeois, Samuel Gauthier.

 

Dir Xavier Dolan, Pro Xavier Dolan, Nancy Grant, Elisha Karmitz and Nathanaël Karmitz, Screenplay Xavier Dolan, Ph André Turpin, Pro Des Colombe Raby, Ed Xavier Dolan, Music Jean-Michel Blais, Costumes Xavier Dolan and Pierre-Yves Gayraud.

 

Fonds Quebecor/MK2/PHI Studio/SODEC/Sons of Manual/Telefilm Canada-MUBI.
120 mins. France/Canada. 2019. Rel: 28 August 2020. Available on MUBI. Cert. 15.