Matthias & Maxime directed by French Canadian talent and Cannes golden child Xavier Dolan is his eighth film after a number of his features have debuted at the Cannes Film Festival to much critical acclaim. His last feature was the wildly under-seen The Death and Life of J.F. Donovan, which premiered at TIFF to an appalling amount of criticism that caused it to be blacklisted on the film market — his latest, Matthias & Maxime will not suffer the same fate.
The film stars Dolan himself as Maxime and Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas as Matthias. Two best friends whom one night star in a short film together for a mutual friend’s sister, and have to share a passionate kiss unexpectedly. This moment triggers a series of cause and effects leading to emotional events that hit hard and fast — with grave intensity and atmosphere. Heavy-handed on the visual metaphors and self-indulgent pacing —Matthias & Maxime is still bursting with fire and warmth. The soundtrack and cinematography are correctly utilized to offer a terrific sense of occasion that only enhances the film.
For many, Dolan is new wave pioneer of Queer cinema and a director who ten years previously had never made a film of any form but now has a staggering eight feature films under his belt. He is a creator that frolics more in style more than substance when it comes to his pictures — a fair assessment supposedly from at a creator who is the darling of an Instagram and Tumblr generation that wants information fast and loose, with no real care for craft. Such a harsh assessment feels appropriate at times with Matthias & Maxime, as Dolan often forces visual metaphors to such a substantial degree— growing into an exhausting element comparable to being hit over the head with a baseball bat at times, but the thought process is transparent behind every decision. With every small issue (and they’re minute at best) you’ll find two or more positives that Dolan implements that are quite stringing. If it’s not his technique behind the camera, it’s his performance, and if it’s not his performance, it’s the craft of his writing and editing.
Technologically speaking there is a great deal here to both appreciate and commend. The cinematography by André Turpin is notably one of the most deliciously perfect attributes that one could want from a feature film — it’s nothing short of enrapturing. The framing and composition of images throughout will leave its audience breathless, and while it convicts this feeling of hipsterish artistic prowess that has plagued Dolan previously it feels far more contextually appropriate and effective than ever before. The edits by Dolan is also rather terrific, as it’s slow and never abrasive even when the film becomes aggressive— it remains almost soft and warming.
The first act of artistic direction is rather astonishingly arthouse and evokes a sense of film school schlock but soon reveals itself to be much more— a genuinely accurate analogy of the talent of Dolan himself. Dolan even impresses with his performance as the titular Maxime to the point I am beginning to wonder what he can’t do. He truly disappears into this rather dark and hard-hitting performance that inhabits an incredibly rich and emotionally compelling conversation on the parameters of sexuality. Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas as Matthias is also fantastic with the direction of his character. The film more so follows Matthias thoughtful discussions with his sexuality compared to the home life of Maxine that is explored in the film — the arc of Matthias is in particularly captivating to see. His slow descent into the stagnation of himself and the gradual realization of who he is becomes a factor that sadly devastates him as time goes on. It’s like watching a train wreck in real time but not in an exploitative painful matter, more so an honest and organic thread of a journey in life. How Freitas conveys this emotional self-turmoil is breathtaking as he descends into this state of oblivion that grasps its audience by the throat and doesn’t let go whatsoever with an immensely firm grip.
There are however slight qualms and issues with the film itself. For starters, it’s a little too long with its current running time. Considering its premiere and the plausibility of an edit when it hits the domestic or international market there a strong possibility, my opinion can be swayed to a certain degree. However, at the moment with the one hundred and twenty minutes running time, it’s just slightly too long for its good, and while the pay off is still effective, it takes some time to get where it wants regarding a climax. There is also a whole host of intense on the nose visual cues that are expressed far too often in an overly simplistic and pandering manner. The methodical thought process here i.e., visual metaphors that are almost in a constant balance are just now too heavy-handed for your casual audience. It’s never inaccessible but undoubtedly slightly patronizing to bear witness with its excessive nature.
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