Matthias & Maxime ***
Starring: Gabriel D'Almeida Freitas, Xavier Dolan, Pier-Luc Funk, Anne Dorval, Micheline Bernard, Harris Dickinson
Director: Xavier Dolan
It’s been a while since Xavier Dolan (Laurence Anyways, I Killed My Mother) lived up to his hype. Since the Québécois auteur took independent cinema by storm with his first films, he rose quickly from peak to pinnacle until winning the Grand Prix at Cannes and several Césars for It’s Only The End Of The World. But then The Death And Life Of John F. Donovan brought it all tumbling around his ears. In his first foray into English-language cinema and with a cast of A-listers to die for, he got lost in this over-ambitious project that lost his distinctive hallmarks of filmmaking. Now, Dolan has returned to his roots, with a small-scale French-language character piece based in Quebec, taking one of the titular roles himself, much like in the earliest days of his career.
Max (Dolan) is a shy young man whose large birthmark on his face has always brought him unwanted attention. His mother is an alcoholic manic depressive (Bernard), whom he has long had financial guardianship over. But he’s had enough and is moving to Australia in less than two weeks. At a party with his friends, he is cajoled into participating in shooting a short-film in which he is required to kiss his best friend Matthias (D’Almeida Freitas). After, their friendship starts to deteriorate as Max prepares to leave and needs him the most. But Matthias is struggling to understand the feelings that were awoken within him when they kissed.
This may sound like a fairly standard sexual awakening plot, but that’s mostly because it is. Much of the film is spent with Matthias, watching as he has argues with his girlfriend and goes on reckless nights out with his hyper-masculine colleague (Dickinson) to strip-joints. But Dolan applies his usual contemplative style, with the camera mostly observational as we wander aimlessly between these two characters’ lives. The tension builds between them, especially in the final act, but it’s an incredibly slow build with the film dragging itself over the two hour mark before any real drama actually occurs.
Dolan as actor, director and writer has put the buffers up on this film, not being too ambitious like with John F. Donovan, overtly dramatic like It’s Only The End Of The World, or vitriolic like I Killed My Mother. In fact, it feels entirely like a palate cleanser for a career that’s gone in a different direction than he intended. Matthias & Maxime feels most like Heartbeats, but where that film delighted in the dysfunction of its relationships, this falls somewhat flat by being just a little too generic and stylistically restrained on something that required no restraint in the first place.
Max’s reactions to people staring at his birthmark make for the most interesting scenes in the film. There probably was an interesting film to be made here about his constant need to hide from attention, but instead this is a bromance-turned-romance that feels like a film made for the sake of it. Fans of Dolan will enjoy his return in front of the camera, but I doubt it will win him any new admirers.
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