Xavier Dolan's Matthias & Maxime deftly explores a sexual identity crisis between two male friends
Melancholic and pensive, Matthias & Maxime plays out as an ode to a quarter-life sexual identity crisis between two grown men.
Unfolding in a slightly different fashion from Xavier Dolan’s previous movies, Matthias & Maxime nevertheless features at least some themes familiar to his oeuvre — boyish angst, monstrous mothers, and sexual ambiguity. Matthias & Maxime features two seemingly straight men, who, on the cusp of transformation in their professional and personal lives, are forced to confront their sexual identities and feelings for each other.
Matthias, played by a brooding and scruffy Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas, who has a loving girlfriend and a kind mother, is a successful lawyer expecting a big promotion. Maxime, his childhood friend who has an ex-addict for a mother Manon (Anne Dorval), on the other hand, is leaving Montreal to Australia for two years. When the two friends are made to star in a silly short film made by another friend and are made to kiss onscreen, something tectonic shifts within them. An increasing sense of restlessness creeps into their lives, more in Matthias’s than in Maxime’s, after the onscreen kiss that forces them to confront their feelings for each other.
Even as the movie opens with a testosterone-filled gym scene where Dolan and Freitas bro-talk on a treadmill, the movie oscillates between portraying the friends as metrosexuals. This is truer in the case of Maxime whose sexual proclivities are never made entirely clear. Even as he is seen getting flirtatious with girls on dance floors, his mother’s taunts, calling him a princess, seem to emasculate him. (In fact, even Maxime calls himself one).
One realises soon enough there is plenty of sexual ambiguity smoldering within Maxime, played by Dolan himself to remarkable maturity. With a blotchy red birthmark that blooms across one side of Maxime’s cheek, Dolan seems more invested in attributing physical quirks to his characters than providing them with necessary emotional depth.
Some perplexing choices, including a handsome but noxious lawyer client character played by Harris Dickinson (Beach Rats), populate the movie and muddle the narrative flow further. As if to balance out Manon’s toxic mother character portrayal, Dolan places Micheline Bernard’s Francine as a sweet mother, balancing out the toxicity, a trope that has the risk of playing out as a stereotype.
As Maxime’s departure date draws closer, the disquiet between two friends increasingly suffocates their friendship and they brood and avoid each other. All this simmering sexual tension reaches boiling point when a drunken brawl at a friend’s party eventually culminates in an almost passionate sex scene before Matthais realises they have gone too far.
Unlike Matthias, Dolan's Maxime is vulnerable but it's never explored whether there is any correlation between his vulnerability and ambiguous sexuality (or rather, closeted homosexuality). By making Maxime take the first step in getting sexual with Matthias, the film attempts to make his character confront the sexual ambiguity. But from then on, the movie self-indulgently follows the two, as if its too eager to plunge into a sexual identity crisis. At the absence of any depth to the moral conflict the characters endure, their struggle comes across as just skin deep.
With lingering shots and contemplative frames André Turpin’s cinematography provides sustenance to Dolan’s indie-movie flourishes. Unfortunate as it is, those contemplative visuals never rise up to much and as the movie meanderingly enters a rather predictable high-point, the viewer has already lost in touch with the reality of the characters. Same applies for Jean-Michel Blais’s background score that stands in emotively in some scenes where even the writing is flat.
Melancholic and pensive, Matthias & Maxime plays out as an ode to a quarter-life sexual identity crisis between two grown men. But the movie never makes clear what is at stake if the two men decide to actually step out of the closet and confront their sexual feelings for each other. In the absence of such solid reasoning, it becomes harder for the viewer to root for either of the character. Nevertheless, this is a terrific cinematic achievement for a director who is only 31 years old.
Matthias & Maxime had its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. This piece was republished upon its release on MUBI on 28 August, 2020.
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