Felix & Meira [subtitled in part]

Felix & Meira is a French Canadian romance, set primarily in Montreal.

I struggled to get into this movie most of the way. I didn’t dislike it, it’s not a poorly done film (quite the opposite), it’s not confusing (there were some things here and there that I wasn’t sure of, but it’s not terribly hard to follow), but it’s quite slow, one of those films that’s all about setting and sustaining a certain melancholy mood.

Still, rather than my interest fading, I felt somewhat more drawn into the film closer to the end. The last maybe fifteen minutes or so have a real psychological intensity to them, and I found that I had come to care about the characters and the story a little more than I had realized.

Meira is a young wife with a baby, from an Orthodox Jewish family, clearly losing interest in her marriage and to some extent her life in general. Felix is a young single guy who seems to live primarily off money he inherited from his family or is given by his family. His father dies early in the film, and although father and son have been largely estranged it hits him very hard. Clearly he feels that much has been left unresolved in his relationship with his family, especially his father.

Felix and Meira encounter each other in public two or three times, Felix is immediately interested and seeks to connect with her, and she completely rebuffs him, not even indulging in the kind of mandatory hostile flirtation that characters always do in movies when they first meet and must do the hard-to-get ritual even though it’s obvious they’re going to end up in bed together. She won’t even talk to him, beyond one time uttering “Don’t speak to us!” (she is pushing a baby carriage).

But he is persistent (which, by the way, I would never be in that situation; if a woman makes it blatantly obvious she doesn’t want to interact with me, then that’s the way it’s going to be) and of course they end up involved with each other, sneaking around behind her husband’s back. Nothing sexual yet, though. Felix seems perfectly content just to be with her and to let things go at her pace as she gradually breaks out of the shell her Orthodox upbringing and early marriage have put her in.

Probably one reason I had trouble feeling more engaged in this movie sooner is just that I find religious fundamentalists decidedly creepy. In this case it happens to be Jews, but it could just as easily be Muslims or Hindus or Christians or whatever. The blind adherence to goofy rituals I don’t find appealing or admirable at all, and the sexism and other conservative, traditionalist values are a more serious turn-off. It’s a social environment that is suffocating Meira. She’s seemingly the only one who has the sense to see that there’s something seriously wrong with it (the others think she’s crazy when she admits she doesn’t share their joy in committing to their religious duty to have as many babies as physically possible in Quiverfull fashion); it’s a wonder a lot more of them—the women especially—aren’t looking for a way out.

Not that the husband stands out as a particularly bad guy, at least relative to that community. (He does fight like a girl, though.) He’s doing the best he can. He too has been warped by being socialized in that manner.

And indeed, later in the film he becomes an even more sympathetic figure, manifesting that he genuinely loves Meira, and making an admirable effort to feel his way toward figuring out what is the least bad thing to do in the circumstances in which he finds himself.

Really that’s kind of the theme of the film. Felix and Meira seem to have developed something special, but in their circumstances there really is no “good” way to proceed such that they won’t hurt others, have major feelings of guilt, possibly have reason to wish they had chosen otherwise, etc. The “let’s just follow our hearts and be together, come what may” romantic option may end up being the one they choose, and may end up being the best choice, but it’s not a choice without plenty of drawbacks.

I can’t say I enjoyed Felix & Meira at a high level the whole way through. There were stretches, especially in the first two-thirds or so, where I was forcing it. But looking back on it, this is a thoughtful and well-made film with considerable psychological depth, and I’m glad I watched it.

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