In Maxime Giroux’s new film Félix et Meira, the two protagonists’ respective circumstances make for a perfect love story.
Felix is a middle-aged Québécois bachelor living in Montreal’s Mile End. Estranged from most of his family, he leads a somewhat aimless existence in his quaint apartment. At his father’s deathbed, Felix still can’t manage to reconcile his sense of loss with his long-standing resentment. As an atheist, he envies the sense of purpose he sees amongst the ultraorthodox Jews living in his neighborhood.
Meira is a member of that very community; a young mother and wife whose reality is entirely dictated by her conservative religious lifestyle. “Haredi” Judaism is a denomination of Orthodox Judaism that strives for an insular existence, shunning all modern secular culture, including even other streams of Judaism. Meira’s sole duty is to give birth and live piously. Feeling suffocated and unfulfilled, she quietly rebels at home while her husband is away working or studying. She listens to soul records, takes birth control pills and draws pictures while she cares for her baby.
So Felix and Meira’s needs complement each other’s almost perfectly. After meeting and bonding over their mutual love of drawing, they seem to embody each other’s escape fantasies because they are practically opposites. Yet, while the story may seem obvious, the film is not simplistic. Each character, even those in supporting roles, brings something subtle to the story, rendering it more complex and more sincere.
Hadas Yaron is enchanting in the role of Meira, weaving self-control and a naïve curiosity about the outside world into her character. But the most intriguing character is Meira’s dutiful husband Shulem, played by Luzer Twersky. Initially, we’re almost invited to resent Shulem. He is strict and unable to sympathize with his wife’s unhappiness. “When will you finally understand that this is our life?” he asks repeatedly, embarrassed by her rebellious behavior and worried about gossip within their vigilant community. He disrespects Meira’s privacy, knocking impatiently on the bathroom door.
But it progressively becomes apparent that Shulem is not the detached, insensitive martinet that you almost want him to be. In one particularly delicate scene, he wakes up in the middle of the night after hearing noise in the kitchen. He goes downstairs and finds a mouse squirming, its neck stuck in a trap. A moment of silence ensues. “It is a cruel world, my friend” Shulem finally murmurs in Yiddish. He too is trapped, in his case in his religious devotion, which he understands has become an obstacle to his wife’s happiness.
Giroux presents one of Montreal’s most artistic and enigmatic neighborhoods in a gently nostalgic light. Leonard Cohen’s evocative, self-deprecating lyrics fit perfectly as we oscillate between experiencing the satisfaction of watching a cultural taboo being challenged, and the sadness of watching a family fall apart.
Felix et Meira is showing at Cinema Du Parc (with English subtitles)
An avid film-goer and passionate cook, Maxine Napier Macdonald received a BA from McGill University last spring.