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Review: ‘Felix and Meira’ is a Delicate Portrait of a Uniquely Forbidden Romance

Review: 'Felix and Meira' is a Delicate Portrait of a Uniquely Forbidden Romance

Concealed under subtle gestures, comfortable silences, and
the mutual reassurance that one’s imperfections are insignificant, lies the
foundation for our romanticized idea of love. One that cares little for
consequence and that offers relief from the burdens of routine. This is exactly
the kind of ferocious emotion director Maxime Giroux presents his characters
with in “Felix and Meira,” his alluring portrayal of an improbable relationship
between a married Hasidic woman and a secular middle-aged man going through a
crisis.

Tales of forbidden romance between people from opposing
worlds are evidently commonplace, but here Giroux handles the strong yearning
for tangible connection afflicting both parties with utmost sincerity never
asking for his protagonists to reveal more or to give more than they can within
their strictly defined boundaries.

Taking care of her daughter and being and active and
honorable member of the Hasidic community is all that’s expected of Meira
(Hadas Yaron), a beautiful young woman who is clearly dissatisfied with the
restrictive expectations of her religious existence. Her husband Shulem (Luzer Twersky) is by
no means a perfectly devotee, but he strives to please his fellow men by
showing he can manage his household and conform to the defined norms. There is
affection in their marriage, but it can only be perceived through cracks in the
walls of a fortress made of rules and regulations that separates them.

Nearby, Felix (Martin Dubreuil), a perpetually ambitionless bachelor, is
dealing with his father’s imminent death and their irreparable detachment. Although
members of the same Montreal neighborhood both Meira and Felix carry out
parallel lives unaware of one another. They each enjoy drawing silly creatures,
and when they meet at a Jewish deli one morning, this seemingly irrelevant
coincidence is enough to ignite their interest.

As Giroux crafts opportunities for the lovebirds to develop
intimacy, which go from childishly playing ping pong to enjoying some tunes in silence, he doesn’t forget their particular dilemmas and the risks that the
mere idea of hanging out represents for Meira. While mostly quiet, she is an
intriguing box of tiny secrets that expose her true personality underneath the
oppressive façade she must wear. Small demonstrations of rebellion assert
Meira’s individuality even if briefly. Listening to music from a record she
must keep hidden, playing with noisy mousetraps despite Shulem’s disapproval,
and most importantly, deciding over her own body when those around her pressure
her to have more children.

With her captivating and powerfully expressive gaze, Yaron
gives Meira a balanced air of innocence and subdued defiance. Slowly, as Felix
invites her to discover the sounds and sights beyond the opaque environment she
knows, Meira falls for him both because of his kind efforts and because he
symbolizes freedom. Yet, Giroux’s film is not concerned with denouncing any
particular belief or to depict religion as a paralyzing aspect of Meira’s life,
instead he advocates for choice by showing there are other people, Shulem
included, that are comfortable with what their faith asks of them. Meira is
not, and in this culture straying from the flock has severe repercussions.

Similarly, the men in Meira’s life are confronted with their
respective predicaments both as individuals and in relation to her. Felix
believes his father was disappointed in him and this becomes a torturous
thought, while Shulem can’t fathom the idea of losing his family and
being seen as a failure. Giroux refrains from vilifying either of them or
judging their reactions, because his three subjects suffer from devastating
loneliness that can’t be simply rationalized.

In a marvelously touching scene Felix and Shulem discuss
their feelings and, while clarifying they are enemies in the battlefield of
love, they also agree that their common goal should be Meira’s happiness. Both
Dubreuil’s effortlessly charming demeanor and Twersky’s stern, yet caring,
performance capture two distinct versions of romantic love that keep Meira at
a crossroads.

Enhancing the strong narrative at hand even further, Giroux
makes use of every other storytelling element in a deliberately delicate
manner. Even if for some the lack of lengthy dialogue or heavy-handed
exposition might appear problematic, these qualities allow the filmmaker to
rely, as he should, on the audiovisual aspects. Sara Mishara’s cinematography
is brilliantly elegant throughout, but when the couple meets in New York, the
shiny lights and crowded streets add a gorgeous exuberance. Colored by neon
hues Felix and Meira look even more like two foreigners to the city, to love,
and to each other, just trying to make sense of it all.

As an interesting extra touch, Giroux takes the time to
momentarily drives away from the central conflict and focuses on singular
occurrences like a conversation between a couple of bystanders or to drift into
a musical sequence that is equally vibrant and timeless. Music is indeed a
fantastic part of “Felix and Meira” whether is classic ballads or themes composed
by Olivier Alary.

Unassumingly, Giroux transcended the shackles of familiarity
and created a film that is not revolutionary, but definitely remarkable. To
love out of choice or to love out of duty is what Meira must decide, but as we
see in the film’s perfectly ambiguous conclusion, neither option is faultless. “Felix
and Meira” is an exquisite portrait of a possibly futile love that exudes seductive
melancholia and delightful nuances.

Now playing in L.A. at the Laemmle Royal and Laemmle’s Town Center, and in NYC at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas

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