Hardly clowning around in the deeply scarring opening sequence of horror sequel It: Chapter Two earlier this year, the talents of Xavier Dolan have slowly started to filter into the mainstream. Since stealing this reviewer’s heart with the magnificence that was Mommy, many have implied his recent efforts like It’s Only The End Of The World and most notably The Life and Death Of John F. Donovan, which still hasn’t seen the light of day in the UK, haven’t quite had the same lustre.

Through this exquisitely shot and sensitively handled deconstruction of sexual identity, Matthias And Maxime is the work of a man whose melodramatic tendencies have been slowly reined in, to allow a better measured and mature cinematic voice to be heard.

Back in front of the camera, Dolan’s Maxime is the scrappy foil to the refined Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas). For all their boisterous in-fighting with fellow friends, their bond seems unbreakable despite their contrasting career paths. One set to expand his horizons and head to sunny Australia. The other bracing himself for the rather beige confines of a lawyer’s office.

The unintentional antagonist of the plot is Camille Felton’s Erika, who you can imagine owning the divisive term ‘social influencer’ considering her sassy, hair-flinging demeanour. On the hunt for two male actors for her short film, she overcomes much resistance from the pair to be roped into it, with the promise of a kiss between the two buried in the script leading to much tension and soul-searching.

With only the momentary reflection of a television screen feeding its audience the crucial moment, Xavier Dolan’s direction is restrained to counterpoint the intrusion from the characters surrounding Matthias And Maxime, a gentle indicator of how people should figure these feelings out on their own terms. One notable frantic swim in the lake almost like they’re washing away this stain on their increasingly brittle masculinity, is the ‘lightbulb’ moment that suggests this initial fiction has tapped into something deep and startling in its reality.

Whilst certifiably low-key for Dolan’s standards as he lovingly references films like Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country. His fondness for spiky rapid-fire dialogue along with creating scenes set to an eclectic soundtrack, as the emotions of the piece escalate remains thrillingly intact. The thumping euphoria of Britney Spears’ ‘Work Bitch’ in a strip club. An emphatic Pet Shop Boys entrance made by a charismatic Harris Dickinson, who revels in the stench of his outdated machismo and is presented as the toxic version of masculinity, in which Matthias is evidently conflicted in aspiring to. Whether it’s in the friendships or entertaining the prospect of a fully-fledged romance, the sense of longing permeates throughout as Dolan toys with the aspect ratio to emphasise the inner conflict consuming its leading men.

Clearly looking to escape the clutches of his volatile mother Manon, with regular collaborator Anne Dorval providing another powerhouse turn in the process. The freedom craved by Dolan’s Maxime is almost under threat by how closed-off his long-time partner-in-crime has become, which is heart-breaking in its articulation. His chemistry with Gabriel D’Alemida Freitas’ Matthias who is mightily impressive in conveying the intense repression of his emotions, is utterly believable with one stiflingly sensual encounter fittingly opening up the frame as much as their hearts. The subtle shift in their relationship is perhaps most telling in their clothing. The rigid primary colours of orange and blue worn in the short film, only to alternate in a latter party sequence with the richer tones worn suggesting both the deeper love and melancholy felt by them.

Likely to be deemed a welcome return to form. Xavier Dolan’s Matthias And Maxime is a heart-swelling, tremendously tender romance.

Rating: ★★★★½

Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Written by: Xavier Dolan
Cast: Xavier Dolan, Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas, Harris Dickinson, Anne Dorval
Release Date: TBA

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