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TV/Film Culture cheat sheet: Xavier Dolan, Andre Aciman’s essays, and more

Jan. 20, 2020
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Watch: Matthias et Maxime (dir. Xavier Dolan)

Quebecois auteur and child of Cannes Xavier Dolan’s latest offering, Matthias et Maxime, is a story of repressed love. It revolves around two childhood best friends who are forced to confront—or, you know, tiptoe around—what they feel for each other after kissing for a friend’s short film. Dolan’s greatest strength is his dialogue—personally I think he does mumblecore and talking-over better than Baumbach—but in this he is subdued; he finds power and pain in silence. It is a story of repression after all, so the quiet is thick with tenderness and the sting that comes with trying to hide it. In a way it’s frustrating to watch—why can’t they just kiss again already—but you’re aware, much to your displeasure, that it can never be as simple as that. Their sharing of a room is already so heavy with history—platonic or romantic; again, what’s the point in asking—that even the most minute action feels explosive. Dolan makes you feel every boom. 

Matthias et Maxime is available for pre-order now on iTunes and is set to be released on January 28.

Listen: Self is Universe by Ourselves the Elves

The different kinds of love bleed into each other in Self is Universe, the debut album of Filipino garage-folk band Ourselves the Elves. While their early discography mostly comes off as romantic, this newest release speaks of love and loss and then some. Almost every track is haunted by the ghosts of what had been. “I’ll wait for you / to become new,” opens “Wounds,” a testament to our tendency to distort our interiority in line with the shifts of our lover. Thinking we can ever truly, fully know someone is a rookie mistake, and to shield ourselves from this heartbreaking realization, we ride with the waves, sandpaper our edges to make ourselves fit, still. “Okay Okay I’m Wrong I’m Sorry” presents this beautifully: “You called me today just to tell me I’m pretty / But the next night / You said you don’t wanna see me.” It asks, if eros is regarded with such finality—if romance is defined by waiting and longing and, upon arrival, greeted with a finally—then why does it feel so unsatisfying?

In “Shellfish,” the lover mistakes desire for selfishness: coyly at first, with the pre-chorus, “I’m getting sick of pretending and acting casually / Why do you make it seem like you don’t wanna be with me?”, but more declarative by the chorus: “How does the unspoken voice in your head sound like? / It’s what I’m deprived of.” Emotional intimacy, more often than not, is exasperatingly one-way. 

This album, while chock-full of songs about love, are, as a whole, also a self-reflection. “With you, I don’t know what I’m doing / I just do what I can,” they profess in “D.I.C.K. (Daddy Issues Cool Kids).” It looks at romantic relationships as a vessel for learning about yourself; how the way you understand someone else very often reveals more about you than them. After all, the band’s name was partly inspired by a quote from filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik: “Pakinggan ang sarili mong duwende.” Listen to your inner elf. Recognize the nonexistence of an unbiased reality and rejoice in the uniqueness of your subjectivity. 

Self is Universe by Ourselves the Elves is available to stream on Spotify.

Read: Alibis by Andre Aciman

“It dawned on me much later that evening that our truest, most private moments, like our truest, most private memories, are made of just such unreal, flimsy stuff. Fictions,” writes André Aciman in “Intimacy,” one of the more poignant pieces in his essay collection Alibis. In it the author uses travel to examine memory and identity: both malleable, both affecting each other simultaneously. He writes of trips to Paris, Venice, Tuscany, among others, and throughout, alludes to films, the filters or “peeled skins” he placed on such cities; the “fictions, which are both our alibis and the archive of our innermost life.” Without it we are unable to connect with anything outside of us. He adds, “We seldom ever see, or read, or love things as they in themselves really are, nor, for that matter, do we even know our impressions of them as they really are… What we reach for and what ultimately touches us is the radiance we’ve projected on things, not the things themselves.” 

Aciman’s prose is powerful and eloquent, his words intoxicating; his prose a hallucinogen. His nonfiction is relatively denser, but still equally evocative. Some pieces feel more distant than others—if you spend all that time strolling through European streets in search for identity you’re bound to be pretentious—but he has the ability to tap into a feeling of longing that feels so universal, it’s relieving. “Nothing interested me more than the nether, undisclosed aspects of people and things that were identical to mine. Exposed, everyone would turn out to be just like me,” he writes. At a time of engorged cognitive dissonance, when the inner and outer selves feel more like separate entities than two sides of the same coin, somehow that realization means the world. 

Alibis by Andre Aciman is available wherever books are sold.