In an interview from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Xavier Dolan revealed that his film Matthias & Maxime inspired a female filmgoer to run home and masturbate. It’s easy to see why. There’s no sex in Dolan’s latest film, but lots of talking. (And I mean lots of talking.) Yet by teasing out a fateful lip-lock between the film’s two leads, Dolan butters us up. Foreplay comes in the form of wordplay. Xavier Dolan’s Matthias & Maxime is easily his sexiest film yet. It’s also one of his strongest.
Dolan pens one from the heart with Matthias & Maxime. His eighth feature as a director dances the awkward line that divides bromance from romance. Two male friends, Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) and Maxime (Dolan), break their purportedly platonic friendship with a sexy kiss. What ensues is a queering of The F Word. The friends approach the awkwardly difficult leap of putting a friendship on the line for love.
The stakes are deeper, though, than they were for Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, and their ooey-gooey peanut-butter-and-bacon-sandwich. For the friends, who have relationships with women, they must explore their inner rumblings and confront their sexuality and feelings. (Matthias’s relationship is serious while Maxime’s seems, at best, casual.) But even before they canoodle and go down the road of will-they-or-won’t-they melodrama, there’s obviously something there. A hint of longing ignites every time Matthias and Maxime lock eyes.
Matthias and Maxime’s hesitant dance of come-hither glances and angsty shrugs begins innocently enough. While enjoying a boys’ weekend at a friend’s cottage, Erika, the sister of said ami, requests two volunteers. The mission? To act in her experimental film. Maxime submits immediately, while Matthias gets stuck with the gig after losing a bet. (He incorrectly recalls correcting someone’s grammar at a party.) Then the budding filmmaker reveals the premise of her scene: she needs two dudes to kiss.
Apparently, as the gang learns, Matthias and Maxime might have made out in high school. The former denies the event, but the latter insists it happened. Given the wager that lands Matthias in the film, to begin with, one might be inclined to side with Max.
Dolan edges closer to the big moment with observations that illuminate the friends’ casual intimacy. Matthias is cool with peeing in front of Maxime, as they share a bedroom in the cozy cottage. They are a duo within a group as Dolan sets them apart while the others enjoy the lake. Buoyed by the natural chemistry between Dolan and D’Almeida Freitas, Maxime and Matthias have an easygoing rapport. They’ve clearly been through a lot together regardless of what happened in high school.
When the time comes for their cinematic smooch, Dolan cuts to black. It’s not a cheat à la The Sopranos’ series finale. The best is yet to come as the blank frames merely heighten the sexual tension.
The unseen event transforms the friends. As they return to the city and get back to their lives, something’s changed. Erika’s film, an essay on gender fluidity and love without labels, echoes throughout the events that follow. Matthias and Maxime consider their future without putting it into words.
Upping the stakes is the fact that Maxime prepares for a two-year move to Australia. Matthias, meanwhile, is on track for a promotion and further commitments with his girlfriend, Sarah (Marilyn Castonguay). Dolan’s film sees Matthias and Maxime uncomfortable in their everyday routines and habits, awakened by something new. Run-ins with monster mommies (salut, Anne Dorval!) and ambiguously sexual douchebag Torontonians (Harris Dickinson, in one of the film’s weaker tangents) pull the boys in both directions. Matthias and Maxime seem most grounded and at ease when they’re together. Or, at least before awkwardness, fear, and self-loathing drives them apart.
Xavier Dolan’s Matthias & Maxime furthers the trend of the filmmaker’s more recent films that have been driven more by performances and dialogue than by the aesthetic audacity and visual pizzazz of his earlier works. The ensemble is strong despite several of the supporting players acting in broader strokes. The two leads have an unmistakable spark, with Dolan, in particular delivering one of his stronger performances. One sees considerable growth as Matthias & Maxime further hones a talent on both sides of the camera. The screenplay, like that of Dolan’s incredibly talky It’s Only the End of the World, features a striking interplay between the said and the unsaid; motor-mouthed asides mask true feelings.
But whereas World is more literature and theatrical in its language, M&M is natural and casual. Franglais vernacular and pop culture references abound, while slips of the English tongue that irk Maxime. (Perhaps his dislike for English is a sign of his fear of leaving Quebec and, in turn, Matthias.) Dolan even name-checks Denys Arcand a few times within the film’s culturally savvy dialogue. It has its finger on the pop culture pulse while asserting its distinct character.
Fans of Dolan’s oeuvre will be glad to know that his style remains in top form. The soundtrack is as buoyant as ever with The Arcade Fire’s “Signs of Life” in particular injecting a house party with disco-y joie de vivre. André Turpin’s strikingly composed cinematography restrains the visuals, but the control makes a later formal flourish richly invigorating. When Matthias and Maxime finally escape the group and confront their feelings, Dolan expands the frame. Like the breathtaking centrepiece of Mommy, Dolan widens the shot to release emotions that are ready to burst from the frame. As the shot becomes bigger, their world becomes smaller, more intimate and intense. Xavier Dolan’s Matthias & Maxime accentuates every hint of desire that the friends release.
Matthias & Maxime opens in Quebec Oct. 9 and in Toronto, Vancouver, and Ottawa on Oct. 11.