‘Felix and Meira’ is an affecting Hasidic-secular love story

Hadas Yaron and Luzer Twersky star in ‘Felix and Meira.’ 

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

“Felix and Meira” tells of an intimate connection forged between two lost souls who live in the same neighborhood but come from vastly different worlds. It is noteworthy in many ways because it avoids many of the easy stereotypes of earlier films dealing with the Hasidic Jewish community.

Directed with sensitivity and restraint by Maxime Giroux, who co-wrote the screenplay with Alexandre Laferriere, “Felix and Meira” focuses on the relationship between Meira (Israeli actress Hadas Yaron) and Felix Saint-Francois (Martin Dubreuil). Meira is a restless young woman living in the tightly controlled environment of a Hasidic enclave in the Mile End District of Montreal, and Felix is a free-spirit loner whom we meet as his wealthy father is dying. 

Felix is unsure of his ethnic identity (“I don’t know what I am,” he tells Meira). He had been living a rather purposeless life even before his father’s final illness.  When he meets the married Meira at a kosher coffee shop, he is obviously attracted to the shy, pretty, Hasidic young woman who is trapped in a dull marriage to her ultra-Orthodox, overly serious husband, Shulem (wonderfully portrayed by Luzer Twersky). 

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Though married to Shulem, Meira displays an independent, even playful streak.  She secretly listens to rock ’n’ roll recordings, which she knows bothers her husband. 

Meira and Shulem are loving parents to their daughter Eliashev, but while Shulem expects to adhere to the Hasidic custom of having many children, Meira openly confides to a friend, and later to Felix, that she does not want more. We see Meira secretly taking birth control pills while her husband is away. 

Shulem, determined to maintain shalom bayit, peace in his household, tries to keep his marriage together but seems clueless as to how to make that happen. Meanwhile, as Meira and Felix take baby steps toward greater closeness, her enduring ties to the Hasidic community prove difficult to break. She still touches the mezuzah as she passes through doors.  She agrees to try on a pair of tight-fitting jeans at Felix’s urging, but the experience makes her blush and giggle like a child. The tenderness between the two builds slowly and believably, as Meira ultimately must decide whether to stay in a life she knows or journey with Felix. 

“Felix and Meira” invites comparison to other films, such as 1981’s “The Chosen” and 1998’s “A Price Above Rubies,” in which the Hasidic protagonists feel constrained by the limits of their religion. But unlike “Above Rubies,” in which Renee Zellweger plays Sonia, a defiant Hasidic wife with a wandering eye, Meira’s conflicted feelings are more nuanced and guarded. Her forbidden relationship with Felix unfolds ever so gradually, like a time-lapse sequence of a flower gently opening.

This haunting film succeeds in showing how polar opposites can be intensely attracted to each other once the separation boundaries are taken down. Giroux’s solid direction and textured performances by the lead actors work to avoid the twin dangers of idealization or demonization. 

And although the pacing is at times too slow, “Felix and Meira” ultimately triumphs with an affecting story of an unlikely romance that traverses the barriers that divide their communities.

OPENS:  Friday, May 15, at Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema

RUNNING TIME:  1:46,  in French/English/Yiddish

RATED: R