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). And sometimes those that hide repressed desire can 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 in 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) loose 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 the men have kissed, all of those present recalling a rendezvous at party 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 men lives head in different directions. Maxime planning on escaping his turbulent life caring for his drug addicted mother. His life stuck in a suspended version of his teenage angst; his escape route a new life in Australia. 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.
Societal labels of sexuality are never central in the story that ensues. Dolan opting for a far more nuanced exploration of male love born of friendship and belonging. Both Matthias and Maxime caught in a trap of desire and love repressed through a need to embody a masculine stereotype. A single kiss awakening a life of secret desire, 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 self indulgent and lightening fast years of our twenties, into the slower and more considered years of our thirties. The final exit from youth to adulthood. The reality of adult life, disappointment and honesty shining through. A dynamic that creates a film that is both tender, sad and loving in equal measure.
As usual Dolan’s script is fast, energetic and engaging. Humour cutting through to ensure the film does not become buried in seriousness. While character development is strong. Central performances bringing life and soul to the story alongside cinematography that is full of deep reds and blues.
The insecurities and often late emotional development of men in exploring sexuality, place and desire are beautifully rendered. A glorious cameo from Harris Dickinson as a confident college graduate. Placed in a role of responsibility while still exploring his own place in society as a man. Living through a lens of what a man should be, rather than what they could be. Encapsulating the themes of male emotional repression that held both Matthias and Maxime back from exploring their love and desire earlier.
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