Matthias & Maxime is Xavier Dolan’s eighth feature effort in eleven years, a stripped down piece which seems to be a return to basics for the Canadian auteur. After his most recent, star-studded films drew harsh responses from English-language critics, Matthias & Maxime feels like a palette cleanser, with Dolan playing a lead role and returning to his home turf of Quebec. Matthias & Maxime is unlikely to win over Dolan naysayers, but it’s a film to remind us that the old Dolan is still very much around.
Matthias & Maxime is a compelling story of two friends struggling to work out their feelings for each other. From this simple premise expands a contemplative drama which plays as partial character studies of both leads. Maxime (Dolan) struggles with mother issues and his upcoming move abroad; Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) is stuck in a corporate job he fails to feel passionate about.
Dolan’s bag of formal tricks has played a crucial role in his previous ventures, most notably in the sublime Mommy. Here too, they are on hand to elevate his latest. From sped-up montages to a changing aspect ratio, Matthias & Maxime is full of Dolan’s most exciting ideas; two specific uses of reflections provide great examples of fresh camera trickery. To some extent, this use of form is insubstantial gimmickry, but it brings a feeling of excitement that works to the film’s advantage. In the same way that certain superhero fans cheer at the sleek and bold cinematography of a filmmaker like Zack Snyder, there’s a batch of cinephiles who melt inside whenever Dolan lines up a pop music cue and kicks up his stylised editing. Count this critic among them.
Unfortunately, Matthias & Maxime is narratively thin. There are too few moving pieces and each plot beat takes an age to come to fruition. This is not too damaging insofar as the central storyline goes, but none of the peripheral characters are afforded anything resembling an interesting arc. A scummy lawyer and various family-related subplots are merely distracting, all of which makes for an often frustratingly slow watch. It’s inaction without a point. A purposeful film can make slow pacing an asset, but Matthias & Maxime is barebones and fails to convey any particular message. It’s just meandering, without the bends and turns exploring anything extra.
Matthias & Maxime is a ragtag collection of tropes and concepts, despite Dolan’s usual rawness. The story is compelling at times, though a re-tread of other ideas. With a distinctive style and social awareness, Matthias & Maxime reaches somewhere beyond its flawed plotting. This is a film for Dolan fans, a reassurance that he hasn’t forgotten who he is, and if that appeals, it should be sought out. If not, this will probably just be a bit of a bore.
Matthias & Maxime has not yet announced a UK release.