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Kazik Radwanski Matt and Mara Review


Matt and Mara | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Matt and Mara | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Friends Forever: Radwanski Reteams With Deragh Campbell For Another Captivating Character Study In Close-Up

The tension between a friendship that’s too close for comfort and a marriage in stasis lies at the heart of Kazik Radwanski’s beautifully messy Matt and Mara. Reteaming with his Anne At 13,000 Ft. star Deragh Campbell, the pair have once again crafted a compelling and knotty character, this time studying a woman willingly running headlong into an unresolved past. Beneath its loose, breezy surface, the film explores what it means to be truly emotionally fulfilled and the compromises we make for a more settled life.

Matt (Matt Johnson) doesn’t re-enter Mara’s (Campbell) life, so much as crash land into it. Arriving in Toronto to care for his ailing father and work on the draft of his latest novel, he shows up to surprise Mara at the creative writing school where she teaches. She’s more startled than pleased to see him, but when they later meet to properly reconnect, they fall back into their familiar rhythms of deep, probing conversations marked by long walks and endless cups of coffee. The years have seen their lives take wildly different trajectories. Matt is an accomplished and celebrated author whose success is marked by a move to New York City. Mara’s own writing career has stalled, and she has eased into days shaped by her students and the domestic routine she shares with her musician husband Samir (Mounir al Shami) and their daughter Avery (Avery Nayman). But Matt’s return instills a new energy into Mara’s life. Their easy intimacy gets them mistaken for a married couple — an assumption neither takes any pains to refute — but even in their close orbit, an intangible gulf lies between them that remains unspoken.

Kazik Radwanski Matt and Mara Review

Rooting their relationship entirely in its present state, Radwanski just gives us teases of their past, only making it clear they were once essential to each other’s lives. However, Mara has never mentioned him to Samir, and even more puzzling and potentially troubling, she doesn’t mention the time she’s spending with him now. That may be because Mara and Samir are barely communicating at all. Only Mara’s friend Emma (Emma Healey) offers any outside insight. She scoffs at critics who celebrated Matt’s work for showing that “a man could feel bad about the times he hurt someone’s feelings.” More pointedly, Emma warns that while Matt’s return may be invigorating, when he leaves, it’s Mara who’ll have to navigate its wake. Perhaps sensing this, Mara works to try and keep Matt and his effusive desire for her attention at an arm’s length. But it all comes to a head when Matt drives Mara to a literary conference in Ithaca, where she’s hosting a panel, when Samir bails to continue the recording sessions for his new album.

Kazik Radwanski Matt and Mara Review

Collaborating closely with Campbell and Johnson to workshop their characters, the film’s semi-improvised approach allows Radwanski to break free from conventional or traditional storytelling arcs. Refreshingly, the film keeps us as unmoored and uncertain as Mara, and doesn’t attempt to provide any pat answers or easy sentimentality. This is an examination of a reunion that might’ve been better served not happening at all. Does Mara want Matt’s validation? Is she being made smaller in his presence? Can he understand or is he willing to see who she’s become now? For all his focus on Mara, Matt never asks about Samir and Avery, or expresses an interest in meeting them. Matt and Mara exist in a bubble that neither wants to present to the outside world, perhaps because they both know it’ll implode the moment it’s exposed to an unblinking reality.

Employing unfussy and unobtrusive camerawork from cinematographer Nikolay Michaylov, the film makes us part of Matt and Mara’s summery interlude. Matt and Mara may ultimately remain somewhat elusive, keeping its answers and contradictions unresolved and unknowable. But in this way, the film is also deeply resonant and relatable to anyone who’s had a friendship that in a different time and different place might’ve meant something more, one that remains so meaningful that it’s kept on the shelf, ready to be revisited should the universe decide to bring you back together again.

Reviewed on February 20th at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival – Encounters section. 80 mins.


Kevin Jagernauth is a Montreal-based film critic and writer. Kevin has written professionally about music and film for over 15 years, most prominently as Managing Editor of The Playlist, where he continues to contribute reviews, and he has recently joined The Film Verdict as a Contributing Critic. Kevin has attended and covered a wide range of festivals including Cannes, TIFF, Fantasia, Savannah, and more. On a consultative basis, Kevin provides script coverage for feature-length independent and international films. He is also the co-founder and co-programmer of Kopfkino, a monthly screening series of cult classics and contemporary favorites that ran from 2017-2020 in Montreal.

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