Saturday, March 21, 2015

movie review: Felix et Meira

Félix et Meira
(Canada, 2014)
directors: François Delisle, Maxime Giroux

What is it that causes some people to chafe against cultural expectations when others are at peace with conforming? And what happens when these individuals decide there is simply no place for them in their culture of birth?

In Félix et Meira, a young Orthodox Jewish woman, Meira (Hadas Yaron), battles feelings that the life she is expected to lead—early motherhood to an enormous brood of children—is one she dreads. Although Meira has grown up with her religion’s expectations of women, she finds them stifling. She rebels in small ways (listening to forbidden pop music) and large (taking birth control, which she carefully hides in a box of maxi pads along with everything else she doesn’t want her husband to know about). When her husband becomes exasperated with her embarrassing refusal to act like everyone else, she drops to the floor and teases him by playing dead. This, of course, is her unconscious expression of what she is really feeling inside—there is no room for the real Meira whom she must suppress under averted eyes and silent obedience.

One day while waiting to pick up an order from the local kosher deli, Meira crosses paths with Félix (Martin Dubreuil), a feckless artist who is struggling with his own inability to conform to expectations: in his case, the expectations belonged to his wealthy bully of a father, from whom he has become estranged. After many years of bitterness between them, his father is now on his deathbed and doesn’t recognize him. Félix, in his grief, announces to everyone in the deli that his father is dying, but Meira is prevented from expressing her sympathies because according to her culture's dictates, she is not allowed to make eye contact with or speak to him. Even so, the two do make a connection: as he leaves the deli, Félix gives her infant daughter the watercolour painting he is carrying with him. Sure enough, the painting takes its place among Meira's other hidden possessions.

The relationship that develops between the two characters is believable, understated and surprisingly chaste. Here we have two characters driven not by lust, but by longing of a different kind. Meira longs for escape from the fetters of her community; Félix longs for a meaningful connection and escape from the isolation and loneliness he feels, drifting around Montreal under the worried gaze of his affectionate sister.

Part of the strength of film is its nuanced portrayal of each of the three main characters. A lesser movie would have created a villain out of Shulem (Luzer Twersky), Meira's husband. But he is not a cruel man. He is devout, and he is happy within the confines of his Orthodox Judaism. He wishes that Meira could feel the same way. However, he is not a monster, and he cares about her very deeply. (A former Orthodox Jew himself, Twersky also acted as cultural consultant on the film, ensuring that the cultural portrayals were as authentic as possible.) Martin Dubreil does a good job as the playful but gently sorrowful Félix, and Hadas Yaron is especially good as Meira. She manages to convey youth, shyness, and naïveté combined with intelligence, strength, and agency. 

Another strength of the movie is the pacing, which is precise and economical. There are no unnecessary scenes; each one is there for a specific purpose and moves the story along effectively and efficiently to its conclusion. The cinematography is muted and melancholy, as is the soundtrack, which features the excellent "After Laughter" by Wendy Rene and "Famous Blue Raincoat" by Leonard Cohen.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Félix et Meira for a satisfying and sensitive portrayal of a woman coming into her own sense of self.


Mark Landmann said...

Nice review! It sounds good... I saw a trailer for it at some point. It must have been at the Ida screening...

Melinda said...

I think you would really like this one, Mark! It's funny, on the drive home Peter said he thought it's a movie you'd probably enjoy because you liked Ida, and I thought so too. The plot is different of course, but the feeling is similar, if that makes sense.