‘Matthias & Maxime’ is 30-year-old French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s eighth film. With it, he’s ditched both the poorly-received English-language of his last film, ‘The Life and Death of John F Donovan’, and the big international names and stylistic overreach of his last-but-one, ‘It’s Only the End of the World’, and gone back to something more lo-fi, scrappy and simple. Shot on 16mm and resisting most attempts to be good-looking (it’s all natural light with an on-the-fly, no-frills style), it sees Dolan playing Maxime, a young Montreal man with a very apparent birthmark on his face who’s about to pass into a new stage of adulthood. Maxime is planning to leave behind his spirited bunch of friends and troubled mum (Anne Dorval) to spend two years in Australia. But this is a drama of unfinished business, and the big question of the film is why his long-term friendship with old pal Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) seems to have gone so askew as he prepares to depart.
Dolan manages to impress one minute and have you wanting to slap your forehead the next. Scenes between Maxime and his mum, whose guardianship he’s handing over to his aunt, are shouty and overblown (although fans of Dolan’s ‘Mommy’ and ‘I Killed My Mother’ might appreciate what’s essentially a re-run of the same performance and dynamic). But there are also moments of strong insight and truth, such as a painful leaving speech Matthias gives at Maxime’s leaving dinner and scenes between Matthias and his girlfriend (Marilyn Castonguay), who knows something is just not right.
The incident that sparks the problem between Maxime and Matthias – when the younger sister of a friend asks them to kiss for a short film she’s making during a raucous weekend getaway – doesn’t sit entirely comfortably in the film. It feels a bit too forced, too obvious. Yet the fallout is handled well by Dolan, who tones down some of his previous stylistic wildness, and the best scenes are unspoken as Maxime and Matthias brood around each other for much of the film, translating their pent-up feelings into hurtful behaviour. If the overall effect is a little basic and under-worked, this is still a heartfelt, honest film.