The 2014 Toronto International Film festival saw new films from Canadian heavy-hitters like David Cronenberg, Denys Arcand and Xavier Dolan, but the wonderfully titled Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film was instead presented to director Maxime Giroux, for the intimate drama “Felix and Meira.”
While it lacks the star-heavy fireworks of Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars” or the emotional bombast of Dolan’s “Mommy,” Giroux’s film brings something no less involving to the table: a stark, believable adult romance.
It’s also a remarkably quiet, subtle film, a real rarity in current cinema. This has both positive and negative ramifications on the overall quality of “Felix and Meira.” Even so, despite some blandness, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a refreshing tale.
While the names of both Felix and Meira are included in the film’s title, it is Meira who we get to know best. She is a sad-eyed, heartbreakingly fragile wife and mother in Montreal’s close-knit Hasidic community.
As played by actress Hadas Yaron, Meira is a complicated figure, one whose passions – drawing and music, among them – are frowned on by her husband Shulem (Luzer Twersky), but constantly on her mind. To Shulem, the music Meira loves is “unworthy” of her.
While there is a clear closeness between Meira and her infant daughter, hers is a gloomy, closed-off existence. She and Shulem sleep in separate beds, and rarely speak.
Similarly sad is the life of Felix (Martin Dubreuil), a jobless, seemingly friendless city-dweller whose affable nature is betrayed by a somber visage. As “Felix and Meira” opens, Felix’s well-to-do father is near death, a major occasion since the two have spent years without communicating. The death plunges him into depression.
Chance encounters draw Felix and Meira together, and soon a friendship has formed. Simple events – a game of ping-pong, for one – turn the relationship into something more profoundly life-altering.
The closer Felix and Meira become, the greater the obstacles. Shulem grows increasingly frustrated, and after finding a sketch of Felix, sends his wife to Brooklyn. Here, however, she and a visiting Felix bond even more.
Giroux ends the proceedings with a clever air of ambiguity. Felix and Meira have taken a major step toward happiness, yet seem wracked with the same sense of self-doubt that gripped them in Montreal. Is fulfillment forever beyond their grasp? Perhaps not, but as Giroux makes clear, it’s not going to be easy.
As the film progresses, the most interesting individual is Shulem. Ostensibly the “villain,” he is instead a complex figure stuck between his strict adherence to Orthodox codes and his love for his wife.
Director Giroux draws fine performances out of all three leads. “Felix and Meira” treads no new ground, nor does it ever really surprise. But its slow-burn style is fitting for a tale involving two adults living emotionally bereft lives. It’s a reminder that the quietest love stories can be unexpectedly affecting.
A note on the film’s rating: “Felix and Meira” is, stunningly, rated R for one fleeting scene of sexuality and nudity, through a window, no less. This is an egregiously wrong-headed rating, and may turn off some of the audience members that will embrace the film most.
Felix and Meira
Starring: Martin Dubreuil, Hadas Yaron, Luzer Twersky, Anne-Élisabeth Bossé
Director: Maxime Giroux
Running Time: 106 minutes
Rating: R for a scene of sexuality/nudity
The lowdown: An unusual romance blossoms between two lost souls who inhabit the same neighborhood but vastly different worlds.