Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 26th, 2020
Matthias & Maxime (Xavier Dolan, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Do people smoke incessantly in the Canadian province of Québec? Watching Matthias & Maxime, the new film from writer/director/star Xavier Dolan (The Death & Life of John F. Donovan), it certainly seems that way, though this is hardly the intended focus of the piece. Still, anytime in our 21st century when onscreen characters frequently fill their lungs with tobacco, it strikes this viewer as an artifact of a very different era. Then again, the denizens of Dolan’s cinematic world are perhaps all just past the age to have been seduced by vaping, all mid-to-late twentysomethings (or so) that they are. What we are actually meant to follow, however, is the fraught friendship/romance at the center, and as we wave the cigarette puffs away, there is a genuinely moving drama to behold.
Matthias and Maxime, or Matt and Max, have been best buds since childhood, platonic mates who nevertheless, we learn, once made out in high school. On a weekend retreat with other friends, they are drafted to star in a student film being made by the younger sister of one of their crew, and lo and behold, she wants them to have at it, deep kissing and all. Though both guys self-identify as straight, their session at the cabin sets them on a problematic odyssey, made more complicated by the fact that Max, fleeing a troubled home and bad mistakes of his own, is about to leave for a two-year sojourn in Australia. As everyone prepares, in the twelve-day countdown to his departure, to say goodbye, Matt adopts an increasingly belligerent attitude towards his BFF, perplexing not only his other friends, but his family and girlfriend, to boot. Sexual confusion is a heavy burden to bear.
As Max, Dolan delivers a finely calibrated performance as a man heartbroken by the loss of his erstwhile brotherly soulmate. Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas, as Matt, is a little less engaging, though this is partly due to the writing, which casts him as almost hermetically sealed until the end, his occasionally shifting moods not always rendered in three dimensions. The scenes of Dolan at home with his sick, abusive mother also help lend Max greater depth than any comparable moments with Matt, as does a wine-colored birthmark on his face (not present on the actual actor) which speaks to years of possible torment by his peers.
Shot in washed-out tones that befit whatever off-season we are in (fall, winter or early spring, it’s neither clear nor important), Matthias & Maxime unfolds in an atmosphere of emotional anguish occasionally leavened by the ancillary cast, which includes, among others, a pleasantly preening Harris Dickinson (Beach Rats). This is a time of transition, from prolonged adolescence to the challenges of true maturity, leaving the indecision of youth behind. Which way will Maxime and Matthias go? Perhaps the journey is the destination.
[Starting on August 28, Matthias & Maxine streams on MUBI USA for 30 days.]