Greetings again from the darkness. This movie is filled with quiet and stillness. Maybe moreso than any movie I can recall. With a backdrop of Montreal, New York and Venice, and a theme of forbidden love and self-discovery, the quiet of the actors belie the undercurrent of emotion driving the three leads.
Meira (Hadas Yaron) is a Hasidic Jew living with her husband Shulem (Luzer Twersky) and their toddler daughter within an Orthodox community where women are forbidden from listening to “outside” music, creating art, or even looking men directly in the eye. Their mission in life is to serve their husband, have lots of babies, and respect the religion. While many women in the community seem fine with their lot, Meira hides records under the sofa, draws pictures in a pocket-sized notebook, and longs for the excitement and color of the real world.
One day, by happenstance, the paths of Meira and Felix (Martin Dubreuil) cross in a neighborhood corner store. He compliments her on her drawing, as she tries to ignore him. By the time they next meet, we have witnessed the painful bedside farewell of Felix to his dying father. It’s difficult to tell which is the stronger emotion here – guilt or grief.
Soon enough Felix and Meira are finding ways to meet, but there is no crazed display of passion between the two. There is a devastating scene as Felix patiently waits while Meira musters the courage to actually look into his eyes. It’s like 50 Shades of Restraint. It turns out, for different reasons, these two lost souls share a common bond of loneliness. Meira‘s individuality and creativity are stifled by religious oppression, while Felix is coming to grips as the black sheep of a family that no longer exists. When Felix says of his father, “He hated me to death. And then he died.”, we understand it’s the missed opportunity that weighs on him more than the passing of a long-lost parent.
Music plays a vital role in how director Maxine Giroux presents the characters and the story. Wendy Rene’s “After Laughter Comes the Tears” is used beautifully, as is Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat”. Heck, even a mousetrap becomes music to the desperate ears of Meira. As stated before, the film is incredibly quiet, and I challenge any movie lover to come up with a more painful argument than the one featuring Meira and Shulem whispering at each other from separate beds, or a more powerful scene with fewer spoken words than Shulem and Felix at the kitchen table. On the bright side, watching her walk around in her first ever pair of jeans is a freeing sight to behold.
Mr. Giroux presents something very real, yet outside the bounds of what cinema usually brings when forbidden love, religion, loneliness and grief are involved. Ms. Yaron delivers an astounding performance, and it’s little wonder this has been such a hit on the festival circuit.