Félix and Meira: a well-acted if underdeveloped Canadian drama opening in Berkeley on Friday

Is it better to live a life of quiet desperation and stifling stability, or roll the dice and risk coming up snake eyes in the ‘life’s a gamble’ sweepstakes? That’s the big question posed by Félix and Meira, a well-acted if underdeveloped Canadian drama opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 1.

Malka (Hadas Yaron) is married to observant Hasid Shulem (Luzer Twersky); together they live in Montreal with their infant daughter Elisheva. To date, she’s only given her husband the one child – an oversight that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the other women in the city’s tightly knit Hasidic community.

That’s not the only piece of evidence suggesting our heroine is less than happy with her lot in life: Malka openly voices her disgust when the lights inconveniently turn off during Shabbat, and when Shulem leaves the house for morning prayers one day her first instinct is to put the baby down for a nap and play a forbidden record (Wendy Rene’s maudlin deep soul ballad, ‘After Laughter Comes Tears‘).

Somewhere across town (or perhaps just around the corner – it’s hard to say), Félix (Martin Dubreuil) has just made his peace with his dying father. Standing to share a considerable inheritance with sister Caroline, single Félix should soon be able to move out of his crummy walkup apartment and begin a happier – if still lonely – life. Unless, of course, he meets the woman of his dreams…

That’s the set-up for writer-director Maxime Giroux’s film, which proceeds in fairly predictable fashion to bring Félix and Malka (now masquerading as Meira) together in a local coffee shop. After a tentative courtship things eventually heat up, culminating in an adulterous and extremely ironic fling in deepest Brooklyn.

Though the film ostensibly features two main characters, Yaron owns Félix and Meira. Perfectly balancing Malka’s innate innocence and intense yearning for ‘more’, Yaron’s performance relies on furtive and subtle glances, under the breath sighs, and quiet smiles to tell us everything we need to know. Her still waters may run deep, but the disturbances beneath the surface are easily discerned.

Twersky is also noteworthy as the befuddled Shulem. Unable to understand what his wife is experiencing but desperate to make her happy, Shulem is far from the stereotypical cinematic fundamentalist. He’s a decent guy in a difficult and awkward situation.

Dubreuil has much less to do as Félix, but does his best with an underwritten role. Too much is left unexplained: why is Félix attracted to Malka? Why was he estranged from his father? And what on earth possesses him during the film’s most ridiculous plot development, which almost derails the entire film around the 70-minute mark?

While it may be the best Canadian film about Judaism since Ján Kadár’s Lies My Father Told Me (1975), Félix and Meira certainly isn’t perfect. One gets the distinct impression Félix is simply a convenient tool Giroux uses to make his point about the never-ending battle between modernity and tradition. Nonetheless, it’s still worth seeing, if only to appreciate two exemplary performances.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...