fri 19/04/2024

Matthias & Maxime review - psychology and romance make for cinematic gold | reviews, news & interviews

Matthias & Maxime review - psychology and romance make for cinematic gold

Matthias & Maxime review - psychology and romance make for cinematic gold

Quebec boy-wonder Xavier Dolan comes of age

Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) and Maxime (Xavier Dolan)Shayne Laverdiere

The emotional rawness of Xavier Dolan’s films reflects a rare humanity and empathy. For someone still only 31, the French-Canadian writer and director displays an uncanny sense of the passionate turmoil that animates his characters.

The subtle shifts in moods he achieves may often be sustained through an unusual talent for picking the right music or song, but the tone is never set in a way that manipulates the audience. This makes for a movie that feels powerfully authentic and for this reason deeply touching without ever being sentimental.

The central story of his eighth film focuses on the complicated relationship between two young men, Matt and Max, close friends since early childhood, whose latent sexual attraction to each other is brought to the surface by the two men accepting to kiss on camera for a friend’s experimental short. Max is about to set off for Australia, not least to escape the clutches of his demanding and formerly addicted mother, while Matt is being encouraged to step up for promotion in the legal firm where he’s employed. They’re both part of a tightly-knit group of young men on the cusp of adulthood, party-animals fond of verbal-jousting fuelled by the mind-enhancing smoke of an ever-present bong.

The latent erotic energy unleashed between Max and Matt creates a claustrophobic atmosphere: glances are exchanged and insecurities sublimated as aggression. Both men are being challenged by the threshold of adult life, and yet still under the spell of their powerful mothers. Xavier Dolan (Max) and Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas(Matt) give thoroughly convincing performances. The camera often lingers on their faces, their shifting expressions evoking a mess of contradictory emotions. The passion (often repressed) sometimes overflows into violence, as in a couple of heart-wrenching scenes between Max and his mother Manon – a subtle and very moving performance from Dolan regular Anne Dorval.

Dolan isn’t just skilled at suggesting the psychology of his cast of characters, but a true master of cinematic language and syntax. It is unusual for a director of fiction to edit his own film, but it’s clear that Dolan wishes to work directly with every camera move, superbly-framed shot, or choreographed scene, so as to keep the film flowing in a way that’s always in service of the unfolding emotional narrative. There’s only one false note in the whole film, when he repeats the use of fast-motion, as Max is cleaning his house on the eve of his departure, an over-used effect at the best of times, but here both unnecessary and disappointing.

As the moment of Max’s departure approaches, his so far latent romance with Matt, a minefield of anger and attraction, takes its predestined course, as the two find each other alone, after a quarrel. Dolan handles this highly charged moment with incredible sensitivity, as the two men finally go from light stroking to full embrace. We see them at times from outside, the rain pouring down, and the window made less translucent by plastic sheeting hung against it: the distance the shot creates reflecting Maxime and Matthias’s reluctance to plunge into full intimacy. As the camera moves inside, the sexual play– never shot in an intrusive way – becomes too much for Matt, who pulls back and leaves the room behind, as well as his bereft near-lover Max.

This is an unusual coming-of-age film, and all the better for it: unlike the much-visited tropes of films that chronicle first sexual experiences or the trauma of late teens, the men here hover hesitantly at the borderline of full adult life, facing questions about their identity. There’s a melancholy feel that accompanies a person's transition into his or her 30s – traditional astrologers call it the ‘Saturn return’, the image of Saturn or Chronos evoking the inevitable passage of time, and a sense of life’s intrinsically finite quality. Leaving behind the banter of the social gatherings that recur in the movie, Dolan punctuates the narrative with moments of reflection, sustained by dreamy solo piano, not least in a crucial sequence in which Matt swims out into a lake, loses his way and nearly drowns. 

This is a bewitching and magical film, a work of growing maturity: although this isn’t a strictly autobiographical work, Matthias & Maxime derives great strength from holding up a mirror to the film maker’s psyche laid bare, rather than being a merely sublimely accomplished work of fiction.

This is an unusual coming-of-age film, and all the better for it


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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