She’s a Hasidic wife. He’s a 40-year-old bum. But they’ll show ‘em all. Does this not sound like a slightly more specific logline for a star-crossed lovers story?
It’s a relationship tale as old as time. He’s from one side of the street, she another, they couldn’t have less in common, the parameters of their current lives prevent them from being with one another, but somehow, some way, they will be together. Félix et Meira possesses many familiar qualities of the romantic genre, that’s for certain. But here’s the thing: few onscreen romances have this sort of patience, this much texture, and such jumpy and fearful human behavior. Just look at these two. Really, take them in.
Félix Saint-Francois (Martin Dubreuil) recently lost his father and is coping by burying his emotions. He’s a perpetual runaway, but not a rebel. Félix just seems to think work is stupid (who doesn’t, amirite?), that his affluence is more a burden than a boost. He’s still looking for something, even though he doesn’t know what that is. Meira (Hadas Yaron) is a wife and mother trapped in a vice-like marriage and a stifling community. The Hasidic lifestyle she lives in doesn’t allow for expressive behavior, like drawing or music. Meira gets only the mildest solace from playing records for her baby daughter in secret.
Familiar-sounding as this may be, with its central lovelorn romance, there’s something beautifully organic about it all. It’s no wonder that when Meira and Félix cross paths in a dingy little Mile End Montreal diner, the faintest acknowledgements are able to blossom into something deep for them; the romance is fragile, not slight.
They don’t say much. They aren’t passionate or cutesy with banter. They have their hang-ups and serious concerns about the longevity and practicality of their affair. Few films commit to depicting the full spectrum of human emotion with this little characterization. You can’t throw 10 bucks at a rom-com in theaters right now without hearing hip, young commitment-phobes selfishly worry about having it all.
In a more obvious film, attractive leads would talk cute over a game of ping-pong, about favorite albums and what life means to them. Here, the romantic leads have that game of ping-pong, but it’s on a cold day, in secret, and they speak very little, simply enjoying each other’s company. And perhaps best of all, they really suck at ping-pong.
Félix and Meira just need some time to figure things out, and they earn our patience and sympathy. By keeping us hanging on, uncertain of what will happen to its lovers, Félix et Meira becomes a wondrous, rare kind of romance. It’s one of infinitesimal moments, drawn out for deep consideration. There’s no orchestral swell to meet a hug in the streets, no simple sentiments or comfortable outs in tough situations, but instead shrewdly drawn scenes that feel like constant re-considerations of the genre. In spite of an extremely slim outline, Félix et Meira’s essence and specificity make for something superior. While the beats may echo a host of other indie romances of the aughts, what Félix et Meira brings to its relationship is its culture and texture.
Here’s a great argument for minimalist aesthetics. Maxime Giroux helmed and scripted this tale, and he’s clearly a director with expressive restraint. The film is interested in experiencing these characters, taking a good, long look, and not forcing the audience to feel something. By taking time with the leads, the emotional investments grow onscreen, and with the viewer.