Going for sweet, tender and sensual when telling the twists and turns of a friendship transforming into something more, is a scenario bound to cause a few cavities. Xavier Dolan’s Matthias & Maxime’s candid take on blurred lines surprises by the sincerity of the sparks it provokes, contrary to expectations.
All it takes is one staged kiss on a student film set, for childhood best friends Matt and Max (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas and Xavier Dolan) to question the nature of their bond. Matt is stuck within a bubble of comfort when Max struggles to take care of his ex-alcoholic mother. It is Maxime’s upcoming no-return trip to Australia that finally unleashes Matt’s underlying feelings.
All the ingredients of a typical Dolan recipe mix together on screen: mothers and sons share a complicated past, references to pop culture lay in every corner, and a self-assured discourse states its intentions loud and clear. Yet, Matthias & Maxime is a frank return to Dolan’s roots, broaching topics such as maturity and identity with delicacy, whilst refreshingly counter-weighting it’s reasoning with humour – far from his latest austere attempt, the relatively unfocused The Death and Life of John F. Donovan.
Dolan’s energetic camera is purposely intrusive, zooming in and out of conversations to unfold intimacy, and it works. The constant buzzing atmosphere gives an insight into the ups and downs that youth entails, especially when discovering new unexpected and intense feelings. Via both protagonists’ narrow circle of friends and shared moments or experiences, Dolan tactfully shows the process and the different steps taken by Matthias and Maxime as they slowly converge to one another.
The film also flirts with symbols with ease, as not so subtle secret meanings hide behind two identical plants side by side, boiling water, or a flashing light bulb. The characters’ state of mind and evolution translates in images rather than dialogue, cleverly leaving all outlines of an explanation to the audience’s reflection. By doing so, Dolan chooses to tone down any extravaganza, making room for a quiet sensibility that speaks beyond words.
If Matthias & Maxime puts up the touching scaffold of a love story, it is also a tale about the notion of platonic friendship. As the story unrolls, the film has at heart to make the following statement: no friendship is ever loveless. There are different forms of shared affection in Matt and Max’s entourage, and if the main character’s emotions change along the way to something more profound, they both are aware of the fact that love was present all along.
The eloquent Matthias & Maxime wears its heart on its sleeve whilst being realistic and grounded. More than a love story, it is above all a life story, serving to the audience a raw and intimate slice of everyday reality. Honest in every frame and stripped-down to the core, Xavier Dolan delivers with sobriety one of his most convincing features to date.
by Marie-Célia Cannenpasse
Marie-Célia is from a French Caribbean island, and currently studying applied foreign languages at Sorbonne University in Paris, whilst taking filmmaking courses online. She enjoys listening to soundtracks curled up under a comfy duvet on rainy days, gushing about Kate Winslet or Christian Bale on a daily basis, and crying over the BBC’s adaptation of War and Peace. Her favourite films include Gone with the wind, Super 8, Call me by your name and The Prestige. You can find her on Twittter @MCeliaCR and on letterboxd too @MCeliaCR.
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