Faith Endures, But Does Love?

Felix and Meira
(Canada, 105 min.)
Dir. Maxime Giroux, Writ. Maxime Giroux, Alexandre Laferrière
Starring: Hadas Yaron, Martin Dubreuil, Luzer Twersky
Meira (Hadas Yaron) is a woman of faith in search of meaning. Felix (Martin Dubreuil) is a man of no-faith in search of answers. Shulem (Luzer Twersky), finally, is a man of faith whose life is fulfilled by his beliefs. Meira, Shulem’s wife, finds no happiness in their stalled marriage, but she realizes that faith only takes one so far in relationships. Love for one’s god, no matter how strong or unwavering it may be, does not fill the loveless void between partners. This gap finds its counterpart in Felix’s own emptiness spurred by the recent death of his father, and Felix and Meira finds a beautifully delicate romance in this love story of faith and connection.

Felix and Meira, the surprise winner for Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, shows an outstanding hand at observation and subtlety as director/co-writer Maxime Giroux presents an understated Orthodox Jewish love triangle that is both respectful and touching. While Giroux presents Shulem's own devotion to ritual and faith as fulfilling for him, the film frames the gendered roles and divisions of orthodoxy that lead to Meira's despair. Felix and Meira smartly allows Meira to remain devoted to her faith—notice how she respects the mezuzah in her home (and in the homes of others) both before and after her relationship with Felix begins. The romance between Meira and Felix itself feels defined and respectful of religion, as it remains perfectly chaste, even if only onscreen, for Giroux never lets Meira’s distance from her husband and reluctant attraction to Felix amount to a transgression. She’s unfaithful, yes, especially in the eyes of Shulem and their peers, but lust is not the aim of her infidelity: love, connection, and, above all, life are what Meira seeks.

Meira gamely plays with her detachment from Shulem and from life in the early moments of the film in which she rebels and finds solace by listening to soul music on a record player or takes birth control on the sly. (She hides her pills in a box of maxi pads, which her husband is far too modest to explore). She even responds playfully to Shulem’s outrage over her musical tastes by playing dead and collapsing on the floor. It’s a running gag a bit like the cold-water-in-the-shower bit from Take This Waltz, but Felix and Meira beautifully realizes the irony of Meira’s game when she recognizes and admits that she plays dead every day.

Yaron’s lovely performance forms the heart of the film as Felix and Meira finds its quiet power in her restrained and delicately observational turn. Meira is very young, shy, and reserved, and Yaron’s inquisitive bashfulness lets her character explore the life beyond the restraints of her orthodox faith while remaining bound to them. All Meira knows is the comparative repression of her community, but fears of being ostracized from this community put her relationship with Felix, her commitment to her child, and, ultimately, her own happiness at stake.

Yaron and Dubreuil have muted chemistry, though, thanks to the hesitation of Felix and Meira to defy tradition. This relationship fuels itself with meaning, rather than passion. Felix and Meira are more companions than lovers, and, by the film’s restrained and ambiguous ending, Meira seems just as quiet and unsure of herself as she is when the film begins. Whether she’s free and happy, back in the same loveless silence, or simply unsure how to outwardly express her love is up to viewers.

Giroux and co-writer Alexandre Laferrière situate Meira’s desire to escape her unhappiness within larger oscillations between the individual and the community as tradition finds its place in ever-changing cultures and values. The wintery and distinctly Montreal settings draw out the coldness Meira feels in her community, and the subdued, melancholy cinematography by Sara Mishara is fittingly atypical for this hesitant romance. Felix and Meira is imperceptibly timeless, save for a few markers in mise-en-scène and costuming that allow the contemporary setting to reveal itself, and this very sense of timelessness puts Meira’s own suffocation as a timely parable about the place of the individual within longstanding tradition. Faith endures in its own unique way, but does love?

Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Felix and Meira screens in Ottawa at The ByTowne until Feb. 19.