The problem with any screen romance between someone from the Hassidic community and an outsider is the limited range of outcomes.
Either the Hassidic character, say she’s a woman as in John Turturro’s comedy Fading Gigolo,” turns her back on her community and embraces the “real” or she doubles down on the family, religion and support system and rejects “forbidden” love.
One outcome is politically correct, the other grates in simpler, more moralistic ways.
The French-Canadian romance “Felix and Meira” teeters back and forth between those two payoffs. Co-writer/director Maxime Giroux tips his hand with an early scene in which the unhappily Hassidic Meira (Hadas Yaron) is challenged by her “Have more babies, it’s our duty” pal — challenged and threatened.
“What would you do without us?”
Here’s a movie, set among Montreal’s Hasidim, that comes right out and says it. Meira’s in a cult. She doesn’t get to just leave. She’ll have to escape.
But she’s not thinking about that when the charming Felix (Martin Dubreuil) tries to chat her up in a Jewish bakery. A married woman, she refuses to talk, won’t make eye contact.
But he keeps bumping into her, often as she’s pushing a stroller with her toddler in it. What are his intentions? Then again, what are hers?
Meira gets chewed out every time her traditional husband (Luzer Twersky, stiff and stern) catches her listening to blues or ’60s soul, corrupting the upbringing their daughter. Meira has taken to playing dead at these rebukes. She’s already dead, she hints, living this oppressive, sexist life.
Felix just lost his dad. A non-religious single man, his come-on seems both desperate and sincere.
“Maybe you can tell me something about God or death?”
Giroux makes the possible love affair so mild-mannered that there aren’t a lot of sparks when these cultures clash, just a “You’re strange, WEIRD,” vs. “I’m not strange. YOU are!”
“Felix and Meira” move forward, tentative and fearful, and make the viewer struggle with whether or not to root for them. Meira’s in a trap now, might Felix be the “trapped” one down the road?
How exciting can a hothouse flower like Meira, with her proscribed view of the world, be to Felix? And for Meira, what is there beyond that magical moment when she puts on her first pair of jeans?
As they flirt in English, French and Hebrew with English subtitles, “Felix and Meira” eventually go where we sort of figure they’ll end up, even though their low heat movie peters out long before they get there.
MPAA Rating: R for a scene of sexuality/nudity
Cast: Martin Dubreuil, Hadas Yaron, Luzer Twersky
Credits: Directed by Maxime Giroux, script by Maxime Giroux, Alexandre Laferrière. An Oscilloscope release.
Running time: 1:44