Xavier Dolan’s latest, Matthias & Maxime, hits streaming platform MUBI this Friday and it is a richly rewarding examination of romantic longing and its intertwining with friendship and bromantic affection. With Dolan’s fast-paced direction, countless highly-charged pop culture references, and two grounded, natural performances, Matthias & Maxime is an absorbing treat.
At a gathering of friends Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) and Maxime (Xavier Dolan) reluctantly agree to star in a friend’s sister’s short film – the scene required: a male on male kiss. The aftermath of this scene causes a knock-on effect on the lives of both men, forced to confront repressed feelings, shared memories, and uncertain futures.
Matthias & Maxime is written and directed by Dolan, following his The Death and Life of John F. Donovan and It’s Only the End of the World – projects which saw Dolan solely step behind the camera and coincidentally lacked the spark and energetic flair of his usual features. Matthias & Maxime sits amongst the director’s strongest work: Mommy, Tom at the Farm, I Killed My Father, Heartbeats and Laurence Anyways. This is a tense and truly absorbing glimpse at sexual and romantic longing between two long time friends – believable, sharply observed, and naturalistic in its performances.
Pre-kiss, Dolan’s film captures the bro-centric friendship dynamic with his quick-witted energy captured through high-energy cuts, infectiously loud humour, and savvy, contemporary music choices (Britney’s Work Bitch, Pet Shop Boys’ Always On My Mind, and Amir’s Eurovision hit J’ai cherché being some standouts). Yet the groundwork is laid in: hints at a previous kiss in high school between our protagonists, slow lingering looks between both men, yet both reference female relationships – Matthias even seems somewhat content with a girlfriend. However, these looks and female relationships begin to fade into insignificance in the aftermath of the kiss (which is effectively faded out, immediately enhancing the sense of sexual tension and longing between both characters) with confused feelings beginning to force both men to rethink the trajectories of their lives.
Matthias had been gearing up towards a big promotion at work – captured in an interesting subplot where he needs to schmooze new client McAfee (an irresistibly charming, albeit slightly morally questionable Harris Dickinson) – yet he begins to find his focus clouded. Maxime begins to question his impending move to Australia (his frustration about anyone using English language words perhaps seen in his fears and apprehensions about his upcoming change). However, the almost unbearable, poorly-articulated longing and tension between both men puts these respective plans under threat. Dolan captures this in a number of absorbingly tense scenes – Matthias leaning more towards frustration and anger, struggling to come to terms with the newfound prevalence of his feelings, whilst Maxime falls more into a solemn quietness.
Xavier Dolan and Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas’ performances feel tremendously natural and unforced, gently guiding us into the narrative and capturing a multitude of rich emotion between each other. Both actors have a natural charisma and whilst their characters may frustrate with their lack of articulation regarding their feelings, their challenges feel perfectly expressed in both performances.