Matthias & Maxime

Matthias & Maxime ★★★½

Matthias & Maxime is Xavier Dolan's latest feature effort, his eighth in eleven years, and it's a stripped down piece that seems to be going back to basics for the Canadian auteur. After his last two films were star-studded affairs that drew harsh responses from English-language critics, Matthias & Maxime feels like a palette cleanser. Dolan plays a lead role and the film is back on 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 comes something which expands into a contemplative drama which plays as a partial character study of both leads. Maxime deals with mother issues and his upcoming move abroad. Matthias is stuck in a corporate world he doesn't know if he cares for. Their struggles reflect different classes and peoples, but both have only their longing on their mind.

Dolan's bag of formal tricks has played a crucial role in his previous films, most notably in the sublime Mommy. Here they also elevate the film. From sped-up montages to a changing aspect ratio, Matthias & Maxime is full of the energy that Dolan's most exciting ideas have. Two uses of reflections are great examples of fresh camera trickery. To some extent, this use of form is insubstantial gimmickry, but it brings a vibe that always feels exciting. In the same way that certain superhero fans cheer at the most stylish imagery 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 me as one of them.

Unfortunately Matthias & Maxime is fairly thin as a film. There are not many moving pieces and each plot beat takes an age to come to fruition. For the central storyline that's fairly fine, however all the peripheral characters have uninteresting arcs. A scummy lawyer and various family subplots are more distracting than anything. 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 doesn't contain any particular message. It's just meandering, without the bends and turns exploring anything extra interesting.

Matthias & Maxime is a ragtag collection of tropes and concepts, yet it has the rawness that Dolan usually delivers. The story is compelling, 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.

2020 Ranked