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'Felix and Meira' review: A romance with muted sparks

Hadas Yaron as Meira and Luzer Twersky as

Hadas Yaron as Meira and Luzer Twersky as Shulem in "Felix and Meira." Credit: Oscilloscope Pictures

"Félix and Meira" is an alchemical experiment conducted by writer-director Maxime Giroux, who combines two unlikely ingredients: a Hasidic woman and a non-Jewish man. The result is not the most explosive -- nor organic -- romance. Still, it swirls and settles in interesting ways.

French Canadian Giroux sets "Félix and Meira" in Montreal's Mile End, a visibly Hasidic neighborhood that resembles Brooklyn's Williamsburg district (which also makes an appearance), and has gentrifying hipsters to boot. One of them is Félix (Martin Dubreuil), a middle-aged trust-fund kid living a pleasantly idle but lonely existence. He's the unlikely magnet that attracts Meira (Hadas Yaron), a Hasidic wife and mother who secretly yearns for a life beyond her community's borders.

It's obvious what attracts Félix to Meira: Yaron, a 25-year-old Israeli actress, gives Meira a girlish, almost virginal sex appeal. (The image of Meira trying on her first pair of forbidden jeans is as erotic as if she were taking them off.) Meira shows her best side to Félix, but around her husband, Shulem (Luzer Twersky), she behaves like a toddler. Whenever she's caught with contraband -- an old R&B album, for instance -- she collapses and pretends to be dead.

Giroux's film has built-in drama -- a woman on the verge of abandoning all she's ever known -- but doesn't exploit it fully. The Hasidic community looks oppressive at worst and boring at best; its positive attributes are never shown, so we never have a sense of what Meira is sacrificing. Another problem is the way Giroux forces his characters into contrived situations. The meeting of Félix and Meira is one of several important scenes that feel slightly forced.

The most interesting thing in this movie is Twersky. His Shulem is partly a tyrant but also a loving, faithful husband, and we end up feeling a great deal for him. Twersky's convincing performance has a poetic irony: He is a former Hasid from Brooklyn who, at 23, left his community, including his wife and two children.

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