Friendships change over time, especially the ones born of childhood and adolescence. Sometimes those friendships hide the true feelings of the journey from boy to man (or girl to woman). While sometimes, they hide, repressed desires that surface on the road to adult life. These are all themes that Xavier Dolan’s latest film explores with tenderness and ease. Bound together with a nuanced exploration of masculinity, love, and emotional repression, in Matthias and Maxime.
Dolan’s 10th film sees him return to the role of leading actor and director, for the first time since his 2013 film Tom at the Farm. Creating a thoughtful and dynamic story that, in many ways, reflects the young filmmaker recently turning 30. An age where many of the friendships we had nurtured and built within our late teens and early twenties naturally change, as career, family and relationships take us in new directions. The old replaced by the new, as we unpick the once urgent needs of teenage and twenty-something life.
On a weekend away with longterm friends, Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Fritas) and Maxime (Xavier Dolan) lose a bet, in a night of drinking, smoking and revelry. The bet involves their commitment to take part in a film being shot by the younger sister of one of their band of brothers. The scene they are asked to perform a sensual kiss; both men reluctantly agreeing while their friends stare through the window.
This is not the first time they have kissed, all of those present recalling a drunken rendezvous as teenagers. And while Maxime remembers the kiss well, Matthias has pushed any memory firmly to the sidelines of his life. However, what starts as a simple kiss carries more power than either Matthias or Maxime expected. Awakening long-suppressed desires and unrequited love as both mens lives head in different directions. Maxime planning on escaping his turbulent caring responsibilities for his drug-addicted mother; his life stuck in a suspended version of his teenage angst. While Matthias continues to climb the ladder of the law firm he works for. Entertaining clients while living a comfortable and secure life with his long term girlfriend.
Simple societal labels of sexuality are never central to the story that ensues. With Dolan opting for a far more nuanced exploration of male love born of friendship and belonging. With both, Matthias and Maxime caught in a trap of desire that has found itself repressed by a need to embody masculine stereotypes. A single kiss awakening a world of secret longing, as both men slowly separate, their lives on different trajectories. Creating a glorious ‘will they, won’t they’ dynamic, as the barriers of teenage and twenty-something masculinity begin to crumble.
In many ways, Matthias and Maxime is a coming of age story. One centred on the transition from the indulgent and lightning-fast years of our twenties, into the slower and more considered years of our thirties. With the final exit from youth and the reality of adult life, disappointment and honesty shining through. A dynamic that ultimately creates a film that is both tender, sad and loving in equal measure.
As usual, Dolan’s script is fast, energetic and engaging. With humour cutting through each scene ensuring the film does not become buried in melodrama. At the same time, character development is robust, with performances bringing life and soul to the story. But it is within the insecurities and late emotional development of men, that Dolan’s film glows with honesty. A theme encapsulated in a brief cameo from Harris Dickinson as a confident college graduate. His new career placing responsibility on his young shoulders. While in reality, he is merely a boy playing a role; still exploring his own place in society as a man.
Matthias and Maxime is a beautiful portrait of male love, desire and friendship that understands the transitional points that exist in life. Creating a coming of age romance that ripples with tenderness and love.
Director: Xavier Dolan
Cast: Gabriel D’Almeida Fritas, Xavier Dolan, Pier-Luc Funk, Samuel Gauthier, Antoine Pilon, Harris Dickinson