Geographically, the title characters of Maxime Giroux’s quiet Canadian drama “Felix and Meira” live in the same neighborhood of Montreal, but their lives couldn’t appear more different. Meira (Hadras Yaron, “Fill the Void”) is a Hasidic Jewish wife and mother, who feels cloistered within the community and its rules. She has a young daughter, Elisheva, but she defies her prescribed role to procreate by taking birth control pills, which she hides from her husband, Shulem (Luzer Twersky). He declares his affection for her, but chastises her when she isn’t the ideal wife and mother, and warns her of the shame she’ll bring to him and their daughter.
Felix (Martin Dubreuil) struggles after the death of his father, with only his sister as a confidante. Both Felix and Meira feel isolated and alone, and when their paths cross at a local restaurant during the Montreal winter, a tentative friendship begins. At first, he is awkward and grasping, desperate for help from someone who appears to have a deep faith, not realizing that she is just as disconnected from those around her as he is. “I like sad days,” he tells her, and she replies, “It’s not a sad day. You are sad,” though she clearly feels the same emotions he does. They spend more time together, bonding over their mutual mood and strangeness. Their relationship seems platonic, but Shulem discovers his wife is spending time with a man outside their insular community and sends Meira to Brooklyn, forcing her to leave her daughter in the care of friends. However, her New York visit has the opposite of its intended result for Meira and her independence.
Giroux and director of photography, Sara Mishara, largely work within a palette of blacks, grays, and whites, with even the days in the sun looking drab. The Montreal snow, the Sabbath darkness, the subdued tones of Meira’s home, and the neutral hues of the Hasidic clothing reinforce the dour mood of the characters. For much of the film’s first half, the only points of color are in the drawings that Felix and Meira create and her daughter’s clothing. Sadness and isolation permeate their lives apart from each other, while their interactions are suffused with a hesitant warmth. When color and light shine into the shots later in the film, it highlights the growing connection the two share.
“Felix and Meira” doesn’t feel like the standard infidelity drama. Their warmth never escalates to a passionate, all-encompassing fire that overtakes the would-be couple, and the film has more in common with “Brief Encounter” than with modern movies like “Unfaithful” or “Take This Waltz.” Their bond is almost entirely emotional, and it’s revealed through the fine work of Dubreuil and Yaron, whose chemistry is demonstrated through her mastery of small, bitten-back smiles and his caring eyes. The script from Giroux features simple dialogue that moves easily between French, Hebrew, and English, reflecting the variety of cultures represented in both Montreal and Brooklyn. There’s a throwaway scene in New York where two men speak in Spanish, observing Felix and Meira together. At first, it feels like it may have been accidentally added from another film, but it adds a layer of richness and detail to the couple’s relationship in the short interaction between the men.
Giroux’s film is a quietly moving drama that can be a little too quiet and slow at times, but it deserves credit for never jumping into melodrama. Even the scenes of confrontation don’t feel overblown. Instead, they feel like exactly how the characters would react in the situation. It may lack the heat of similar films about unlikely love, but that doesn’t mean that it’s short on romance. Felix and Meira’s interactions are imbued with a longing and desire that is impossible not be swept up in. [B+]