Matthias & Maxime. Photo by Shayne Laverdire

Xavier Dolan on the gang mentality behind Matthias et Maxime

The Montreal filmmaker told us about his new film and dispelled the notion that he’s a narcissist.

Friends are not something that generally come easily to the protagonists of Xavier Dolan movies. It’s often them against the world, lonely even if they’re surrounded by others, subsumed by their families and seeking validation in romantic relationships that offer no promise of such a thing.

In a short foreword included in the press pack for his new film, Dolan explains that Matthias et Maxime is partially about how he himself became part of a group of friends for the first time in his late 20s, having spent his teenage years and early adulthood in a fairly atypical and solitary path.

“I guess that’s the nuance,” says Dolan, referring to the idea of a group of friends rather than just friends. “I’ve always had friends. I’ve never had a gang. That notion of a clique? That really happened in the latter half of my 20s, and it gave me a much bigger purpose than art or film or work has, to have a group of friends. It’s changed my life and my lifestyle.”

Matthias (Gabriel d’Almeida Freitas) has a promising career as a lawyer lined up ahead of him and a loving girlfriend (Marilyn Castonguay). His best friend Maxime (Dolan), on the other hand, works as a bartender in a South Shore dive and struggles to keep a roof over his addict mother’s (Anne Dorval) head. Maxime wants to leave for Australia and leave those problems behind, something that Matthias and his other friends (Pierre-Luc Funk, Antoine Pilon, Samuel Gauthier and Adib Alkhalidey) don’t fully believe. At a cottage getaway a few weeks before Maxime’s departure, however, the friends wind up somewhat accidentally volunteering to kiss on camera for a film project spearheaded by Marco’s (Funk) extremely annoying younger sister (Camille Felton). The kiss unlocks something in both men — both of whom, at the very least, present to the world as straight — that complicates their friendship and ultimately their lives.

Matthias et Maxime is, I think, Dolan’s funniest movie — his loosest in terms of stakes and possibly his most optimistic. 

“I think they’re all optimistic in the end,” he says. “This one is, perhaps, throughout. I don’t want to label it as a positive or a joyous or a light film — it certainly is lighter than other films I’ve done before. But that’s what we wanted: a lighter, softer film. A less abrasive film — the colours are a little toned-down. It’s a pastel movie. A lot of people have written that, ‘Oh, it’s colourful, as usual’ but in my opinion they don’t really know how to look at film if they think this film is colourful. I know what we’ve done chromatically and how we’ve built this film visually. I know we’ve done everything so that it would be a pastel movie, as opposed to Mommy, which is a very yellow and very Californian movie. In It’s Only the End of the World, the colours are very deep and very dark.

I bring up the fact that Dolan has spent essentially his entire adult life studied and analyzed — not only as a famous person, but as a creator whose life and work are often observed in the same breath. I wonder if, in that sense, Matthias et Maxime is a way for Dolan to update the world on where he’s at without actually having to do talk show rounds and do that.

“Not intentionally,” says Dolan. “I don’t want to make movies that are about my life — Tom à la ferme is an example of that. I’ve been nowhere close to that state of mind, but needed to tell that story. But, yes, it’s sort of checking in on myself once in a while. Certainly, these movies are a huge testimony of where I’m at in my life artistically and psychologically. No matter what I do and no matter how far the story is from my own life, you will find traces of who I am and how I feel and how I’ve evolved or how I’ve regressed, even. You will see that itinerary of the person that I am — the evolution of that human being, you’ll see that in the movies, but that’s not intentional. I’m not making movies to be, ‘Here’s me, me, me!’

“I am, to most people, a sort of narcissist who has been using film to talk about himself,” he continues. “But, really, what I’ve tried to do all these years is to use my own life, my own memories and my own feelings and share them with the world through other people — characters who are not me. But to me, that’s just normal, it’s what I’ve seen in the works of artists who I admire. I see artists who tell the world, ‘This is who I am inside someone else’s body and mind.’ There’s nothing narcissistic about that, if you ask me. I love looking at people and telling stories about their lives: looking at their laughs, their gait, how they walk with other people, their tics, their mannerisms… how they’re rude to people and how they don’t say thank you to someone who’s holding the door like they’re a fucking slave or an employee and you don’t owe them a thank you.

“I love to watch all of that. Every time I read that about myself — that it’s the work of a narcissist — I don’t really know what to do or what to say about it, because I’m so in love with people. But then again, I feel incapable of making a film where I’m completely effaced or retracted or withdrawn from that movie — a movie in which I do not appear in any way. None of my beliefs, no fragment of my story, of the shame I’ve felt, of the joy I’ve felt, of the memories I’ve made… a movie from which I would be entirely absent. That wouldn’t be a movie by me! (laughs)” ■

Matthias et Maxime opens in theatres on Wednesday, Oct. 9