For his stunning, entrancing, and unnerving psychodrama M/M (which premiered earlier in the year at Slamdance and in Toronto at Inside Out last week), Canadian writer-director Drew Lint takes what could have been a standardized tale of sexual obsession and turns it into one of the most memorable debut features of the year. Stripping his queer narrative about loneliness and narcissism down to its most primal essence, Lint’s M/M is a film of few words, but not a single wasted breath or image.
Matthew (Antoine Lahaie) is a Canadian ex-pat from Montreal living in Berlin and working a thankless job as a lifeguard at a public pool. One day, while skimming through a social media hook-up app, he stumbles upon Matthias (Nicolas Maxim Endlicher), an attractive, seemingly interesting young man with the body of a God and the swagger of a bad boy. Too shy and internal to approach Matthias directly, but unable to stop thinking about him, Matthew begins a methodical campaign to insert himself into the life of his new crush.
Lint has a background in production design, which isn’t surprising given the film’s stunning, vibrant visual composition. Working primarily in almost antiseptic looking white colours that serve as a further reflection of Matthew’s pale body and initially bland personality, the palate employed by Lint will offer some key hints as to what’s coming later. Similarly, Lint uses his visuals and the performances of his actors to tell the story instead of a wealth of dialogue. People often speak in clipped phrases and only converse when forced to (especially Matthew, most notably in phone calls with his doting mother back home and a really awkward encounter with Matthias’ suspicious sister). Lint never shies away from spending too much time with the scenery, effectively creating a stifling sensibility that serves the story and never overstates the film’s gradual descent into thriller territory.
Initially locking the viewer into Matthew’s skewed perspectives and fantasies, M/M starts out as a low-key treatise on the nature of alienation and loneliness. Although Matthew clearly wants to become a part of Berlin’s booming gay club scene, the harsh reality is that he’s a stranger in a strange land, regardless of his sexual orientation. But once that distance has been established and more time is spent with the more narcissistic and confident Matthias, it’s not hard to notice that both men live within sterile, distancing personal spaces that shouldn’t be mixing.
An unforeseen twist around the halfway point turns M/M into a more instantly recognizable kind of genre hybrid, and the questions surrounding Matthew’s longings changes drastically. No more is Lint’s film about a young man who wants to make a connection in a lonely place. The question becomes whether or not Matthew wants to be WITH Matthias or if he actually wants to BE Matthias. It’s a familiar sort of story, but Lint’s penchant for restraint makes the suspenseful wrinkles a lot more skin crawling and cerebral than visceral.
Lint is aided by the stellar work of Lahaie, whose performance is overwhelmingly physical. Without much to say for himself and not much of a verbalized internal monologue, a lot of Matthew’s feelings, desires, fears, and vices are explained through movement. Lahaie’s work here can be best compared to that of a dancer or a performance artist capable of telling a world of different stories without uttering a single word. Lahaie fits Lint’s intentions and visions perfectly.
M/M does lose a bit of narrative steam just before its admittedly tidy conclusion, but it certainly doesn’t lose the viewer’s interest or make anything that came before it any less memorable. M/M is one of the few works of queer Canadian cinema that approximates the feeling of sleepwalking through a thankless life, and it doesn’t have to resort to emotional trickery or narrative shorthand to accomplish that. It’s slinky, seductive, shimmery, and squirmy, doing more with simple glances, architecture, and visual metaphor than filmmakers more established than Lint have been able to approximate in entire careers. To say that it’s exciting to see what Lint does next would be an understatement.
M/M is now playing at Carlton Cinemas in Toronto.