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Matt and Mara – Berlinale 2024 (Film Review)

2 min read

Still Courtesy - MDFF

For a city that continuously disguises itself within its metropolitan veneer, it's always refreshing to see a film that fully embraces the beauty and chaos of Torontonian triviality. As with many of Kazik Radwanski's films, his latest Matt and Mara takes advantage of the mundane hustle of quotidian limbo. Nothing screams Can-Con more than the rickety sounds of screeching TTC cars or the passive-aggressive depictions of irritated baristas. Unlike Anne at 13,000 Ft, Radwanski's latest intimate character study shifts away from the world of child-care, and instead moves its spotlight towards academia. Once again, Radwanski's muse returns in the titular role as Mara; a soft-spoken post-secondary professor with a literary arts distinction. Radwanski constantly focuses on the microscopic mannerisms within his economical storytelling, as his narrative streams within Mara's uncertain subconscious. 

As a Toronto-set work of fiction, Matt and Mara delivers an accurate depiction of the city's entangled arts community. Surviving in the big city isn't easy — rent prices are through the roof, and the fear of a Jordan Peterson sighting consistently looms in every corporate corner of the downtown sphere. Radwanski acknowledges the contemporary hardships of struggling artists throughout his meandering timeline. His titular protagonist is stuck in a creative block, waiting for a day of creative reckoning to liberate her from the oppressive office spaces of the Toronto Metropolitan University. As the title suggests, Matt and Mara is ultimately a story about unification; one which tackles the reconciliation and eventual downfall of the film's titular duo. 

Still Courtesy –

once again returns to Radwanski's working-class universe with a shared-name role. His character is simultaneously sunny and shady; a two-faced smooth-talker whose relationship with Mara ebbs and flows through the shared nostalgia of their undergraduate years. The spoken literary references punctuate their connectivity, as Mara's relationship bubble cracks against her forego memories. Radwanski's signature methodology of diegetic soundscapes, tight close-ups, and sparse wides provides intimacy towards capturing the present moment. For a film which often relishes in the spoken-word recollection of the character's past, his direction continuously choreographs his actors in the now.

Throughout the film, Radwanski toils with the expectations and tropes of the romantic comedy genre. Instead of endorsing the cliché, Matt and Mara instead dilutes the familiar formula with pedantic conversations. The dialogue at hand occasionally falters towards tiresome socialite territory, as his supporting characters slowly dwindle into two-dimensional archetypes. However, at his utmost advantage, Radwanski utilises his self-reflexive academic environments as leeway to examine his character's interiority and creative autonomy. Like Anne at 13,000 ft, Radwanski scribes transparent metaphors amidst the decay of his character's turmoil. At the finale of his singular albeit underwhelming anti-romantic-comedy, Mara stands by her bookshelf. In hand, she places a copy of Matt's fictional “Rat King and Other Stories” alongside The Divine Comedy. She stares blankly. A chapter closes.

Still Courtesy – MDFF
Matt & Mara premiered in the  competition as part of the 74th Berlin Film Festival. The film is currently seeking international distribution.