A Flake of Your Life, by David Bax
In spite of its symmetrical title, Maxime Giroux’s Felix and Meira is really the story of three people, each defined by her or his personal system of belief. Giroux explores how what we believe and, sometimes more importantly, what we don’t believe lead us to align ourselves with similarly minded people, even when they may also hold a host of other beliefs that fail to match our own. Giroux and his cast do this with humor, pathos and aching beauty, all while juggling the French, Hebrew, Yiddish, English, Spanish and Italian languages.
Meira (Hadas Yaron, last seen in Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void) is part of a semi-cloistered community of Hasidic Jews in Montreal. She has a daughter that she loves very much and a husband that she doesn’t. His name is Shulem (Luzer Twersky) and he is a dyed in the wool believer. While on her regular constitutionals with her daughter, Meira repeatedly encounters Felix (Martin Dubreuil), a loner whose father has just died. Eventually, the two recognize the pain in one another enough to converse in what can only be described as a meet-sad.
One of Giroux’s strongest choices is to avoid making Shulem a villain. As the coinhabiting representation of the structure that is suffocating Meira, he can’t help but be an antagonist of sorts. But his lack of malice, his genuine compassion for Meira and the strength of his faith in the way they live all make him sympathetic, even tragic. Felix, on the other hand, is disillusioned by life to the point of passive nihilism. His sadness is not the result of his father’s death but of a life that has consistently failed to be worth more than a minimal effort. He has been sleepwalking so long that he fails to remember having met his sister’s boyfriend of seven years. And Meira finds herself, after years of living up to expectations, at sea. She doesn’t know what she believes in. She only knows that she doesn’t believe in the life she’s leading and that she likes soul music, which she listens to in secret once Shulem has left for the day. It’s notable that the vocalists she listens to are female, like in the long, apparently non-diegetic black and white footage we see of a black woman playing guitar and singing. Yaron’s performance is note-perfect, charming and heartbreaking in a way that recalls the best work of Audrey Tautou.
Giroux uses various visual metaphors throughout Felix and Meira. Some of them seem obvious at first, like the mousetrap he introduces into Meira’s kitchen like it’s Chekhov’s gun, lying in wait to symbolize her involuntary entrenchment in her own life. But when the trap springs as Chekhov prescribes, it’s not she who is caught. The metaphor most woven into the fabric of the film, though, is that of the time period. Felix and Meira takes place in the present but Giroux uses omission of technology along with costuming choices to suggest that Montreal as these characters experience it is in the past, specifically the gray and brown early 1980s familiar to viewers of FX’s The Americans. Dubreuil even looks a bit like Matthew Rhys. The only early clue that we’re anywhere near the present is a copy of The Shock Doctrine on Felix’s bookshelf. Then, in the film’s most unreservedly romantic sequence, Meira and Felix are able to meet and spend an evening together in New York City. At first, Giroux is coy about the modern elements, framing the characters in such a way that they are almost but not quite blocking a digital billboard or showing them in close-up in Times Square so that the lights and chaos are far out of focus. Later in the sequence, though, he pulls back his camera and lets in the present, late-model Land Rovers and all. At the end of the night, Meira and Felix look out at the city from Felix’s hotel room, the blinking lights of the city illuminating them in a cavalcade of color. New York is freedom and it absolutely sparkles.
Felix and Meira‘s other elegiac sequence, glum where the other is ebullient, is a languid montage of Meira’s return to her life in Montreal after the trip to New York, set to Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.” It culminates in her taking her daughter to have her picture taken and maybe it’s the song but you’ve never seen a baby look so depressed. The flashes of the camera play across the young girl’s face just like the lights of Manhattan. This is a child whose life has been written for her already, just like Meira’s was.
Whether you call it “belief” or “faith” or “philosophy,” each of us has a governing set of ideas according to which we make our decisions. With Felix and Meira, Giroux illustrates with empathy and a sure hand how those ideas can pull us away from some people and push us toward others. But even when you’ve become socially aligned according to your beliefs, you’re still an isolated set of internalized ideas. By alluding humorously to The Graduate in the dénouement, Giroux has his characters reflect, “Okay, so we know ourselves. Now what do we do with that?”