MATTHIAS & MAXIME: Xavier Dolan’s Most Tender & Open Film To Date

Xavier Dolan‘s films are often loud, charged with audacious youthfulness and dominated by characters with strong personalities and a tendency for hostility. Sometimes it works, especially when Dolan finds a way to balance the strident feelings exuded from his script with moments of tenderness. But for some other times, it feels like Dolan is more interested in showing off what he can do, that he is this young hot director and actor who can do stuff from A to Z instead of finding a compelling way to tell the story he wants to share in the first place. His previous two features, the star-studded The Death & Life of John F. Donovan and the disastrous mess It’s Only the End of the World, are two great examples of this case. Both movies are visually stylish, but underneath all that gloss, they don’t contain emotions or complexities as seen in Dolan‘s previous works.

Matthias & Maxime — Dolan‘s most open and tender film to date — thankfully, sees him reclaiming his wunderkind status once again. At its core, it’s a story of identity and sexuality; two topics that the director has been exploring since the early days of his career. But where most of his previous movies tend to approach these subjects in a voyeuristic way, Matthias & Maxime feels a lot more understated. Yes, Dolan‘s visual and narrative trademark is still present, but for the most part, the movie leans heavily on the poignancy of the characters’ relationship rather than the melodrama of the situation that the director often puts his characters into.

Two Men And One Kiss

First premiered in last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Matthias & Maxime centers its story around the titular characters as they’re trying to make sense of their identities, both as an individual and couple after an unexpected event turns their lives upside down. That unexpected event happens while the two are spending some fun time together with their gang of bros on a lake house where one of their friends’ sister is making a short film and ropes the two titular guys for a brief moment of locking their lips. The kiss itself, however, is not shown, but it’s obvious from the get-go that it’s gonna be the center of the story; one that pulls the two lead characters into the same orbit.

MATTHIAS & MAXIME: Xavier Dolan's Most Tender & Open Film To Date
source: Mubi

Maxime, played by Dolan himself, seems to not be affected by the kiss, at least in the beginning. But Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas), a lawyer from an upper-class family in a long time straight relationship, on the other hand, is starting to spiral after that night. He’s confused about his feelings, but can’t seem to articulate what it is that he’s so confused about. The fact that the two once shared a kiss together back in high school, a memory that Matthias has tried to repress deep inside him for a very long time, certainly doesn’t help either. If a kiss is just a kiss, then why would he feel this insecure?

Naturally, with this kind of setup, what follows after is a will-they-won’t-they scenario, with a final destination to see whether Matthias finally admitting his feelings to Maxime and ending up together with him or not. But while it’s indeed the part of the story, Dolan‘s approach is more complex. He is more interested in exploring his characters’ internal struggles rather than simplifying their journey into one we’ve seen countless times before in other romance movies; allowing them to reflect on their feelings in a way that feels deliberate and sincere.

This is not to say that Dolan has gone full contemplative though. Much like his previous movies, Matthias & Maxime is still permeated with tension, one that’s rooted in a storyline involving Maxime’s decision to leave Canada and move to Australia in six weeks. While it does give the script a little suspense, the biggest ticking bomb of the movie, however, still mainly comes from the push-and-pull dynamic between the two characters, as well as the unverbalized yearnings and desire within their relationship. And Dolan knows how to toy with these materials really well, so much so that when the two boys finally reach the point of no return, there’s an inevitable sense of eroticism coating the movie.

MATTHIAS & MAXIME: Xavier Dolan's Most Tender & Open Film To Date
source: Mubi

Dolan accomplishes this by doing something unorthodox. Instead of placing his titular characters on the same scene for the majority part of the movie, he strategically creates a distance between them. This may feel frustrating at first, especially seeing how Matt keeps denying what he feels toward Max for the most portion of the movie. But that sense of frustration is actually the reason why the climax feels even more satisfying. It keeps teasing you; building the momentum slowly but with confidence. And to have such a great performer in Freitas, Dolan obviously makes the journey all the more rewarding.

Freitas, in particular, gives a knockout performance as the confused, insecure Matthias. Both subtle and manly, Freitas knows how to display the internal struggles that his character is feeling. His body movement is always uncomfortable but in a good way. And when he finally lets go of all that burdens, we can also feel a sense of relief painted in his face. Dolan‘s performance is more controlled and vulnerable, though when his character is needed to be showy, he knows well how to do so. When the two finally share a scene together, their sexy chemistry will no doubt drive the audience crazy.

Performative Heteronormativity

Underneath the romantic exposure of the two titular characters, Dolan also examines his favorite subject, which is masculinity. Particularly in this movie, he addresses the topic of performative heteronormativity and the damages it can create on someone. We can see this from how Dolan observes Matthias’ actions throughout the movie; how he presents himself as this masculine, heterosexual guy trying to fit in a world where heterosexuality is what’s considered normal and how this performance that is nothing but a facade slowly chews him emotionally and mentally, especially once he’s confronted by the thing he’s been trying to repress inside him for a long time.

MATTHIAS & MAXIME: Xavier Dolan's Most Tender & Open Film To Date
source: Mubi

This is obviously not new territory for Dolan, and the arguments that he creates, how performative heterosexuality can be the root of toxic masculinity, is also not something that other movies haven’t explored before. But what’s unique about Dolan‘s vision here is how he manages to connect this issue with the topic of social class. The movie seems to argue that if someone comes from an upper class, there’s a bigger pressure for them to appear as normal as possible in the outside world, thus the damages it causes are more harming.

It’s an intriguing argument and one that Dolan explores cleverly throughout the movie. Though his approach can at times feel unsubtle, especially with the introduction of Harris Dickinson‘s character, for the most part, Dolan manages to tone it down by resorting back into the movie’s sharp observation of Matt and Max’s inner struggles. One thing that doesn’t really add anything insightful to the movie is the subplot involving Max’s mom. But at least, even if this part is a little distracting, seeing Anne Dorval doing her absolute best with limited material is always such a treat.


Matthias & Maxime may not capture the emotional depth of Dolan‘s best work in Mommy. But considering his last two features, what he offers here — a heartfelt ode to male friendship and a sharp examination of performative heteronormativity —  shows a big improvement and maturity. It’s both open and tender, filled with big emotions and phenomenal performances from Dolan himself and Freitas at the front and center of the story. Welcome back our favorite wunderkind!

What do you think of the ending? Let us know in the comments below!

Matthias & Maxime is now streaming on Mubi.

Watch Matthias & Maxime

Powered by JustWatch


Does content like this matter to you?

Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.

Join now!

Similar Posts