He's been Canadian cinema's golden boy for a decade. Now, Xavier Dolan just wants love and a dog
Dolan's latest Matthias & Maxime might be his gentlest film — and his last behind the camera for a while
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. It won the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada.
In 2017, Xavier Dolan encountered four "great love stories" that broke his heart: Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name, Francis Lee's God's Own Country, Eliza Hittman's Beach Rats and the script for Joel Edgerton's Boy Erased (which he would later go on to act in).
"These movies impressed me so much," Dolan says, "and made me want to write a love story between two men."
And as he considered this desire, he decided to couple it with another.
"I've wanted to make a film about a group of friends for so long, as a tribute to my own friends and how they actually saved my life in the latter half of my 20s," he says. "These friendships appeared and and changed things up for me...They changed everything. They gave me a sense of balance and sanity and stability and peace. I had friends before, but I didn't have a group of friends. I didn't have a gang. And now I do. So I sort of combined my desire to write a male love story with my desire to talk about friendship and group friendships...a little bit The Big Chill, I guess."
The result was Matthias & Maxime, Dolan's eighth feature film in the decade and change he's essentially been Canada's most discussed, celebrated and chastised filmmaker all at once. It started in May 2009 when his debut J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) won a trio of awards at the Cannes Film Festival, launching him onto the international stage at just 20 years old. And it continued at that very festival this past spring, when Matthias & Maxime became his third film to screen in Cannes' prestigious official selection (and his sixth to screen there overall). An ensemble film following a group of 30something male friends, the film centres around the emotional aftermath of a kiss between the titular characters. Lifelong friends Matthias (Gabriel D'Almeida Freitas) and Maxime (Dolan) both are forced to consider whether there's been something else lying beneath the surface that whole time.
"[I had this] idea of two very good friends who suddenly start sharing feelings they had never felt before — knowing they've known each other their entire lives, and what it would do to that group of friends and how it would perhaps be a sort of menace or threaten the balance of the entire brotherhood. What would the implications be for their personal lives, their families and everything?"
As he bookends 10 years of making films, there are some complimentary elements to Mother and Matthias. Both star Dolan himself as a man — or, in Mother's case, boy — sorting out his sexual desires while struggling with his relationship with his mother. (Though the mothers themselves are intensely different characterizations, both are played by great Quebecois actress Anne Dorval — it's her fifth Dolan film, and her second playing the role of his mother). But tonally and stylistically, they couldn't feel more different. Matthias marks a more stripped down, softer side of Dolan. It's probably his gentlest film yet, whereas gentle is hardly a word to describe any moment of I Killed My Mother.
"It was very clear with this movie that I wanted a softer, more tender film than the ones I had made before," Dolan says. "Perhaps I don't feel as angry as I was when I was younger. I don't feel the need to prove myself, either. I wanted to protect the characters of this movie from my aesthetic instincts and the things that that can matter sometimes a little too much. I'm not saying we didn't care about this movie's aesthetics — this movie was designed and produced and thought through by a group of artists...But we wanted to be more neutral, more down to earth."
As Matthias & Maxime hits theatres, Dolan is, uncharacteristically, not already at work on another film. In fact, he seems quite relaxed with the fact that he doesn't know what's next.
"I don't know where I am going," he says. "I have no idea. It's funny because a couple of months back, I did have something planned...but I'm not going to do it. It's not the best timing for me to make that film. It is a bit heartbreaking because it was a beautiful script. I would have made it with people whose body of work I really admire — I'm talking about producers. But the timing isn't right for me. So now I find myself a position where I don't really know what I'm doing next."
One thing Dolan does know is that whatever he does next, he wants to act, not direct.
"That's what I want to be doing in my 30s," he says. "Acting makes me happy and challenges me more than directing. I want to be challenged; I want to surpass myself. I will never feel that I'm done with directing. I still have a lot of things to learn. I have a lot of things to discover. But acting just brings me to a better place and I want to be happy and I want to be in that in that place. Acting liberates me."
Dolan says the all-encompassing lifestyle that comes with directing will simply no longer be "modus operandi."
"I am done for now," he says. "I am not interested anymore in that pattern — I want to break that up. I want to change things up. I want a dog. I want to be in love."
While it's hard not to support such a quest, we hope soon enough it also inspires his eventual Matthias & Maxime follow-up. After all, who wouldn't want a gay Quebecois Turner & Hooch directed by Xavier Dolan?
Matthias & Maxime releases in theatres across Canada this Friday.