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Matthias & Maxime is directed by and stars Xavier Dolan, right, along with Gabriel D'Almeida Freitas.

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Matthias & Maxime

Written and directed by Xavier Dolan

Starring Xavier Dolan, Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas and Anne Dorval

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Classification N/A; 119 minutes

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What do you do after making one of the most audacious moves of your career – only to have it backfire spectacularly? If you’re Xavier Dolan, you retreat to the familiar, and pray for the best.

After the Québécois filmmaker’s English-language debut, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, was met with fire and fury by critics on the festival circuit last year (and has yet to receive even a cursory U.S. release, despite the presence of stars Natalie Portman, Thandie Newton and Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington), Dolan shifted his ambitions, returning to Montreal to make an intimate drama akin to his earlier work such as Laurence Anyways and Heartbeats.

Unfortunately, the new film Matthias & Maxime arrives lacking much of the emotional urgency of the Dolan who once captured the international art-house crowd, feeling provincial in more ways than one.

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Following the fractured relationship of the two title characters (Dolan plays the restless Maxime, while Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas plays his more confident friend Matthias), the film has much on its mind – the bonds of youth, the toxicity of modern masculinity, what happens when platonic love twists into something deeper – but it’s all delivered in a package more soggy than incendiary and always just on the verge of unbearable melodrama.

Depending on your affection for Dolan, your mileage may vary – there’s a moment toward the end where his character tearfully pronounces his e-mail address that is either the actor’s worst or best moment of on-screen acting, I’m still not sure which. But at least Dolan seems more comfortable behind the camera here, away from the awkward expectations of whatever John F. Donovan was supposed to achieve. In a year’s time, the filmmaker should be back to full strength.

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Matthias & Maxime opens Oct. 9 in Quebec, Oct. 11 in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa

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