Biweekly Binge:Matthias & Maxime - Tender is the Night
A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's Matthias & Maxime
At first, Xavier Dolan's Matthias & Maxime (streaming on MUBI) comes across as one of his minor works, the foreground is dominated by tender masculine friendship that can border on homoerotic and the background is formed by the frisson in the unspoken, but deep, long friendship forged between two in the group — Matthias (Gabriel D'Almeida Freitas), a lawyer, and Maxime (Xavier Dolan), a bartender, days before his move to Australia in search of better prospects. Dolan gradually lets this frisson take centre stage as Maxime's departure nears. When we first see them together, they occupy a tiny rectangular frame shot from afar, through a window as they are doing the dishes. This physical space grows almost as quickly as their discontent does, and by the third act, we picture them in rain, behind wide tarps.
The film establishes a communication imbalance from the get-go, and this is not just between Matt and Max, but between several main and periphery characters. The opulent film student Erika Rivette, sister of one of their friends, is studying outside Quebec and speaks a mix of English and Parisian French, her brother remarks that it costs $24,000 for this accent and Instagrammed pictures of burrito bowls. The Quebec bourgeoisie is privileged enough to make fun of the access English can provide, while Max, the one moving to Australia, struggles to string a few words together in important communication that could break his future. The culture wars with the class barriers and the disproportionate setup of these childhood friends – Max, Matt, and the rest of the crew – forms the backbone ripe with tension.
Freitas resembles tennis player Feliciano Lopez and looks just as dreamy. He is filmed usually in clean, white offices or in his comfortable home with his wife. He is leaning back in his chair and listening to his boss with his mind wandering elsewhere or smiling and smooth talking whoever is representing the person sitting on the other side of the table, opposite his client. He wears business suits and goes to expensive places to dine and drink. The world of Matt is far removed from the world of Max. Maxime has a Dolanesque troubled relationship with his mother, who is just off the bend, but does nothing to help herself or Max. Max does the work at home, arranges for everything she needs, and their strictly formal conversation is always followed by a quarrel and a mention of his absent brother.
Dolan uses photo frames to deconstruct decades of relationships into matters of seconds. The Rivette family photo frames tell a story of nuclear goodness, years of happy union, a loving father and a great sibling rapport (now they spar all the time). The sparse photographs with Max's family single out just one fact – the absent brother, probably the mother's favourite. Is Maxime loved at all? In an early scene, we see Max in a car gazing out at a billboard for a bread brand – depicting the most happy, heterosexual, nuclear family. At this point we know nothing about Max, we get his background only later.
A short sequence for Erika's film where Matthias and Maxime must make out just for a few seconds hits the start button on the troubled countdown to Max's departure. He's concerned with the letter of recommendation that must come from Matt's father, the financial and guardianship matters that need to be transferred to his questionable aunt for his mother's well-being and travelling in buses where his physical abuse at home gets inadvertently exposed. Matt's downward spiral gathers momentum as he loses his focus within familiar surroundings – the clean air he breathes and the clean furniture and delicately-lined suits he wears. If he chooses to do something therapeutic, he has the means – he can swim across the lake and go another lap to return, he can channel all of his efforts into his work, show around a potential work-related partner with lunches and drinks at the most expensive parts of the city. A presumably cishet colleague belonging to the same class as Matt, but without the existential trappings — a fact that throws him off.
Matthias & Maxime is precise and economical, it is at once the Dolan film with its usual concerns of LBGTQ+ cinema, the relationship with ageing and troubled mothers, unrequited emotions across the board, but with the additional burden of class, a barrier strong enough to oppose the expression of two friends who know each other all too well.