Felix & Meira, a film by Canadian director Maxime Giroux, puts a wry twist on the classic theme of forbidden love. The film opens with a Sabbath meal in the household of a small group of Hasidic Jews. The men, with their long beards and black coats, sing and chant in a staccato rhythm, while one of the women at the table seems diffident, a little uncomfortable. This is Meira, married to Shulem, one of the more prominent men in the community. They have a baby daughter, and Meira adores her child, but she seems to chafe under the strict regimen of Hasidic life. When her husband is not home she pulls a record out from a hiding place and listens to it, a sweet soul music number called “After Laughter Comes Tears” by Wendy René. We don’t know how this beautiful young woman got into this arranged marriage, or how she became attracted to influences outside of her religious background. What we do see is someone confused and in conflict.
We are, as we eventually discover, in Montreal, and the story cuts to Felix, a secular Jew and currently unemployed artist, who on the insistence of his sister, has agreed to come say goodbye to his dying father from whom he has been estranged for many years. He’s never settled down in one place, never really discovered what he wants to do with his life—now his father’s death unsettles him even further.
Felix sees Meira and her infant daughter in the neighborhood, and is instantly smitten. She rebuffs his attempts to be friendly at first, but after her husband comes home unexpectedly and scolds her for listening to the record, she looks up Felix and they gradually grow close. With him she listens to music, goes dancing, and wears a pair of pants for the first time. Sensing something wrong, her husband sends her off to the large Hasidic community in Brooklyn, saying that he will join her later. Felix follows, and things get complicated.
But there’s more to this triangle than you might expect. Shulem secretly loves his wife’s rebellious qualities even as he’s supposed to make a show of disapproval, while the somewhat jaded Felix is challenged by Meira’s innocent sense of wonder. Felix is played by Martin Dubreuil, an engaging performer who can express both calm acceptance and a tendency to give in to wild impulses. Luzer Twersky plays Shulem with an appropriate stiffness that makes the eventual glimpses of vulnerability more surprising. But the one you’re bound to remember is Hadas Yaron, the Israeli actress who plays Meira. The film’s drama, romantic at times and at other times puncturing that mood, plays out in the marvelous and subtle expressions in her face. We want Meira to make the right choice—and it’s a tribute to the actress’s skill that when she does make it, we still feel a little unsure.