Xavier Dolan, the Quebec actor, director, screenwriter, editor,costume designer, who made his first movie when he was 19 which premiered at Cannes, is a fractious, mercurial and an unflinching personality. He should have had a terrible childhood and a rebellious adolescence, for his movies are of turbulence and fuming emotions. He said in an interview that he destroyed his mother in his semi-autobiographical movie J’ai tué ma mère ( I Killed my Mother, 2009) and avenged her in his movie Mommy (2014).
Dolan is nothing short of a prodigy, who can fuse the monochrome and the Matisse, adulterate Vivaldi with Britney Spears in a cinematic blender and create unmethodical masterpieces. And if this is the first time you are hearing about him, its a shame.
Matthias & Maxime (2019) Dolan’s 8th feature film is a story of two friends Matthias ( Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) and Maxime ( Xavier Dolan) whose lives take a knife-like turn when they kiss each other as a part of a short film directed by one of their friends. Matthias (Matt) is driven, determined and ambitious, corporate individual. Maxime (Max) with a unique birth mark on his face, is unfocused and distraught in life, looking after his ill mother (Anne Dorval).
Matt and Max are part of larger group of friends who meet and talk and talk and talk and talk. They are so close that their conversations overlap, one speaks before the other persons sentences are completed and meanings are literally made, yet they comprehend each other to the very final thought. And this chemistry is disrupted, as Matt and Max uncover feelings which lay dormant until the kiss.
Being Dolan’s characters, Matt and Max are extremely complicated, layered, stormy and rebellious to change. They are agitated by each others presence and evade each other, reducing themselves to pleasantries without acknowledging the new meanings their relationship has put on. But in between all this, are these blurred vulnerable glances of desire, of ache, pleading each other for love and intimacy. Only Dolan can serve such layered complexity on visual platter in such an effortless manner.
The journey here is Matt’s, his difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that he is in love with his friend. Max is moreover there, he seems to have known this for a while even before the insurgent kiss. It is Matt’s metamorphosis, his arrival that we await for.
And arrive, he does, he does, in the most poetic fashion on a thunderous rainy night in a small storeroom. Max sits on a table as Matt first kisses Max’s wounded knuckles and slowly makes way to his lips. Till then the movie had been chatty and noisy, but for this very moment Dolan mutes out all the murmurs and music. It is just them and their storms within. Slowly we hear the rumblings of thunder like mild percussion, Matt takes Max’s hands and presses it on the window clenching it, as his mouth wanders all over Max’s face, and a song hums out
“ So honey I am now, some broken thing
I do not lay in the dark waiting for day here
Now my heart is gold, my feet are right
And I’m racing out on the desert plains all night”
Then there is rain and piano and rain and piano, as the shot travels outside the storeroom to the courtyard. We see them through the translucent curtains as a fused singular silhouette, one could not say where Matt ended and Max began. Yet they were so so alive, thrusting throbbing and feeling the pulse of their lifetime. Dolan never shies away from the rawness of sex.The scene is complementary to the surrealist painting Lovers II(1928) by Rene Magritte. Maybe a kiss of denied love unites the visual and the painting.
All these visuals are aided by a cinematography that is compact, loaded with close ups of actors, the camera comes into such proximity with it’s characters that it almost violates their emotional privacy. This is typical of Dolan’s movies, Mommy (2014), Laurence Anyways (2012) have very similar shots. The music provided by a series of song handpicked from different genres from classical, to pop, to punk. One track that stays with you is Phosphorescent — “Song for Zula”
We walk out of Matthias & Maxime with a smile which is not very usual for a Dolan movie. But the other elements of his style remain in tact and evident, the search for identity, the revolt against labels, and the pleasure of youth.
Xavier Dolan’s movies are never about discovering sexuality but about discovering love or the courage in us to do so.