Having just turned 30, the director and actor Xavier Dolan can no longer be called the wunderkind of Canadian cinema, but the fact that he has already directed eight full-length features shows how prolific he has been. He has also appeared as an actor in a number of other directors’ films.
In his new work, Matthias et Maxime, Dolan is both director and one of the two main actors, playing Maxime opposite Gabriel d’Almeida Freitas’s Matthias. The plot is beguilingly simple. Two lifelong friends are asked to kiss in a short film made by the sister of one of their group, unleashing a complex set of emotions that makes each man question his feelings for the other. While Matthias seems unhappy in his high-flying legal career and increasingly ill at ease in his relationship with his girlfriend, Maxime is preparing to move away from his damaged and abusive mother (monstrous mothers are a recurrent trope in Dolan’s cinema) and leave for Australia.
Dolan masterfully keeps the audience guessing about whether the protagonists will acknowledge their true feelings as the day of Maxime’s departure draws closer. This directorial control is all the more impressive as Matthias and Maxime hardly appear together or speak to each other for much of the movie, with the camera following each separately.
In previous reviews of Dolan’s films, I have often complained that he tends to dwell upon too many self-consciously artful shots (usually filmed in slow motion), with no real relevance to the plot or even the aesthetic of the movie. But here every stylistic decision (such as sped-up takes that show the chaotic intimacy of the group of friends, or the shot of the two potential lovers through a window from outside in the rain, giving the impression that they are the ones submerged in water) has real significance.
All the supporting roles are well played, and many of them provide a genuinely comic counterpoint to the anguish felt by the eponymous characters.
I was relieved that the French distributors found it necessary to include French subtitles because, for those not used to it, Quebec French is often almost impossible to comprehend.
While Dolan is particularly touching as the gentle and complex Maxime, d’Almeida Freitas perhaps has the more difficult role as the closeted and somewhat priggish Matthias; I certainly found it less easy to warm to Matthias. But the film as a whole marks a newly mature phase for Dolan; he still dwells upon the personal and the intimate elements that can be found in the best of his previous works, but here there is a greater depth and calm that promises much for the next decade of his career.