FAM_One-sheet_smallThere’s no doubt that romance has been a major attraction in 2015 cinema, with love stories ranging from Fifty Shades of Grey and Carol capturing the hearts of moviegoers. And when it comes to romance, there’s hardly anything more compelling than forbidden love. In Félix and Meira, Maxime Giroux gives us just that, as two strangers find comfort in each other despite coming from wildly disparate worlds.

Félix (Martin Dubre) is a single atheist man, struggling with the recent death of his father. Meira (Hadas Yaron) is a Hasidic housewife and mother. Though they live in the same area of Montreal, they lead completely different lives. One fateful day however, they meet for the first time at their local bakery, and Félix asks Meira for advice on how to cope with his grief. Initially refusing his advances, she soon has a change of heart. And before long, the two begin to realize that they have an inexplicable connection that transcends their circumstances.

More in the vein of In the Mood for Love than Titanic, Félix and Meira’s love story unfolds with understated gentility as befitting the lives of the characters. Martin Dubreil’s Félix is portrayed as a lost soul crippled by grief, unable to find direction in his life. Meanwhile, Hadas Yaron steals the focus as Meira, stuck in a lonely marriage and an oppressive lifestyle. As is the custom of her community, Meira’s days are defined by ritual and piety. And in only her third film role, the enigmatic Israeli actress gives a richly internalized, unpredictable performance that captures her repressed discomfort.

We see more of Meira’s hidden personality as the affair takes her to New York City and beyond. And as the camera follows her, Sara Mishara is given ample opportunities to showcase her exquisitely lit cinematography. But despite the picturesque images, the film lacks the underlying passion to make the romance resonate.

Indeed, one gets the sense that Giroux’s austere surface fails to paint the full picture of the story. The curiosity and ease with which Meira engages with Félix makes you question how she got to the state in which we meet her. Specifically, an unhappy marriage in what seems like a dire prison-like existence.
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In that sense, the film manages to respect and find empathy towards to the Hasidic way of life. Giroux gives us a tangible feel for the culture and most surprisingly, the screenplay allows room for sympathy with Meira’s overbearing husband Shulem. Luzer Twersky gives perhaps the film’s most complex turn in the role, as he proves to be another victim of his rigidly patriarchal religion. Indeed, in one of the film’s most powerful scenes, a despondent Shulem says to Félix that without Meira, his life has no meaning.

So while the subdued emotions of the central romance fail to live up to Giroux’s arresting visual technique, the film delivers unexpected last-gasp intrigue in the doomed marriage that started it all. Indeed, Félix and Meira is ostensibly about forbidden love, but the unfulfilled promise of a love that could have been is equally affecting. Unwittingly, the story of Shulem was perhaps the film’s greatest tragedy all along.

Félix and Meira is currently available on VOD.

Félix and Meira is the Canadian submission for the 2015 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Click here for reviews of other official submissions.