Review: 'Felix & Meira' is an unusually wise divorce movie
Telling of a romance between an Orthodox Jewish wife/mother and a secular single guy, this Canadian drama doesn't take the easy way out.
‘Felix & Meira’
Director: Maxime Giroux
Stars: Hadas Yaron, Martin Dubreil
4 (out of 5) Globes
At first blush, and for at least half of its length, “Felix & Meira” looks more simple than it is. “Fill the Void” star Hadas Yaron plays Meira, another Orthodox Jewish woman involved in the struggle between romance and tradition. This time she’s a shy, underloved Montreal wife and mother who considers leaving Shulem, her stern but fragile husband (Luzer Twersky), upon being swept off her feet by single (and secular) guy Felix (Martin Dubreil). Shulem complains not so much to her but at her and won’t let her listen to old R&B LPs. Felix, by contrast, is charming and funny — a sadsack but one who long ago learned to live with his melancholy, adopting a devil-may-care attitude that has, at long last, made him seem dateable. He rescues Meira from her oppressive community, helping her ditch her concealing duds, teaches her to (badly) play ping pong and even whisks her off to Times Square for a magical night on the town. (Although they somehow do that without hitting up Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not.)
But halfway through we’re reminded that things are a bit more complex than we likely thought. Shulem, her hubs, proves to be less a baddie to be felled than collateral damage — someone taught from birth to seek a narrow life only to have it blow up in his face. He’s a tragic figure, and it's sad what's happening to him, even ignoring the fact that they have a newborn. Here is where most films of its ilk would turn reactionary, forcing Meira to realize the errors of her ways and shed herself of her new, dashing boy toy to return to her maternal/wifely duties. Instead “Felix & Meira” offers a third option, one that tries to rectify her emotions for both Felix and Shulem. It’s a messy solution, but it doesn’t punish her for acting upon her emotions. In fact it endorses it.
This makes “Felix & Meira” sound didactic, even if it’s for the progressive side. But it’s better described as gentle and deeply empathetic. Director Maxime Giroux tells his tale in quiet, patient long takes that can be coolly serious at some times and disarmingly deadpan-funny at others. It has both the shyness that defines Meira with the laidback aloofness that does Felix. It’s a clash of cultures, personalities and tones that aspires to true fusion even as it acknowledges that any union will always be at least a little chaotic. And so a gloomy film, shot with natural light in sometimes Rembrandt-dark rooms or under perpetual overcast skies, also has a lightness of touch. It’s a film where the scene where the jilted husband catches his wife on the street with another man and proceeds to knock him to the ground and maniacally slap him without coming close to hurting him can be both upsetting and oddly absurdist-amusing — a man fumbling for a balance between his rage, the constraints of his beliefs and his actual, limited skills at beating people up. It’s a satisfyingly unsatisfying film, much like life itself.