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Unsealed With a Kiss

Shayne Laverdière/Diaphana

Matthias & Maxime (2019)

Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) is a good-looking trainee lawyer whose career is on the rise. Maxime (Xavier Dolan) is leaving behind his alcoholic mother to tend bar in Australia. Before he goes, their gang of friends – who are fully aware their group dynamic is about to end – head off to Rivette’s (Pier-Luc Funk) summer house for a final holiday. While there, Rivette’s annoying younger sister Erika (Camille Felton) announces she is making a short movie. Max volunteers his participation, but Matthias agrees to help only after losing a bet. And only then do they learn Erika wants them to kiss on camera.

The kiss isn’t shown, but its aftermath is the whole point of this rowdy French-Canadian film. Mr. Dolan, who also wrote and directed, is interested in what shapes a person’s identity – or what a person allows to shape their identity. Pleasingly, neither Matthias nor Maxime are bothered by the idea of kissing a man generally or each other specifically. The issue is that neither of them appear to have considered the romantic idea of each other before, and the kiss blindsides them both. Matthias has a safe and steady girlfriend, Sarah (Marilyn Castonguay), whom everybody likes; Maxime kind of sort of likes a coworker but his plans for escape are his true focus. But the new awareness of this sudden other possibility means neither of them knows quite what to do against the ticking clock.

The movie’s fast pace and sizable cast – there is never one auntie fussing about when three will do – means cinematographer André Turpin’s camera is the eye of the hurricane. The gang of lads is a rowdy dogpile, forever making jokes or showing each other their favorite Instas or making up new pranks to play. It’s delightful to feel a part of it, if you can keep up. Matthias has matured more than most despite being kind of a pill, but Maxime desperately needs the light relief of friends who don’t necessarily bring out the best in each other. His mother (Anne Dorval) is a horror who denies she has a problem and and goes so far as to assault Maxime and then blame him for it. Australia is not quite far away enough.

As Maxime’s departure approaches, Matthias starts behaving more and more badly. Without it being directly articulated, the group starts to realize what is up but as old friends will, they don’t directly do anything about it. But the questions on everyone’s minds are: is this sudden opportunity what Maxime and Matthias really want? And if it is, what are they going to do about it?

A slightly calmer movie would have heightened the tension. Not every epiphany needed to take place in a depressing titty bar, and not every displacing argument needed to happen in front of a dozen other partygoers. The hilarious aunties are comic relief, but little else. And at no point do either Maxime or Matthias articulate their thoughts about the other, to themselves or anybody else. For a movie this garrulous, that’s quite a decision by Mr. Dolan. While their inarticulate acting-out might be true to life, in a movie it means the stakes are never quite explicit enough for the audience to be truly invested. Although if they’d been able to talk about their feelings, none of this would have happened.

N. B.: One of the main characters has a prominent facial difference that passes almost entirely without comment. This is very special. It didn’t need to be in the film, so its neutral inclusion is a pointed commentary about how rare this is.


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