Matthias & Maxime
Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan returns to Cannes with Matthias & Maxime, the story of two childhood friends who long have harbored a quiet, unresolved affection for one another.
Dolan of late is having a bit of an aesthetic crisis. Exploding on the international scene a decade ago with his Cannes debut I Killed My Mother, the then-20-year-old was declared a wunderkind by many, a precocious auteur by others. Over the year,s he made film after film that played this prestigious festival, with several winning awards, including his masterpiece Mommy and the flawed but commendable Grand Prix winner It’s Only the End of the World. His English film The Death & Life of Jason Donavan is a mess, despite an all-star cast and the promise of a crossover audience.
Matthias & Maxime is a return to the highly personal filmmaking that brought Dolan attention in the first place. He plays Max, an insecure young man with a birthmark covering the side of his face. His longtime friend Matt (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) is a handsome young lawyer with a supportive girlfriend, but is torn by feelings of loss as Max is headed off to Australia for two years. When Max and Matt kiss as part of a film project, old feelings fully rekindle.
With snarky references to Denys Arcand and other giants of Quebecois cinema from a generation before Dolan’s, the film wears its indie-Montreal credibility favorably. Unfortunately, his usual dramatic tics – the harsh and insecure mother, the doe-eyed young son struggling with identity – feel like we’ve tread this road too many times before. Most interesting is that the now-30-year-old Dolan is acting younger than his age. Where before there was always a sense that he was playing up the adult situtations, this movie feels practically adolescent in terms of emotional turmoil.
The frustration is that the film feels like a missed opportunity, perhaps overburdened by expectations and Dolan’s continued insistence on acting, directing, and editing himself. He’s a fine performer – look for him in the part two of It for a more prominent showcase to American audiences – but the connection feels more insular and needlessly self-centered by his taking one of the title roles.
Matthias & Maxime shows Dolan going back to comfortable territory, but what’s clear is that maybe the spark of his direction needs a bit of distance in order to fully shine again. Maybe after a bout of doing some other work as solely actor, gaining both career and life experience, he’ll return fully to form. Instead, we’re granted a middling if occasionally moving effort from the man, far superior than his previous, disowned English flop, but nowhere near the power or prestige of his previous films.