“Felix and Meira:” a rare portrayal of Chasidim as Human Beings
I recently saw the film “>New York Jewish Film Festival. The film, which stars Hadas Yaron, Martin Dubreuil and Luzer Twersky, tells the story of a married Chasidic woman who feels dissatisfied with the life she is leading and becomes involved with a non-Jewish man. Oscilloscope Laboratories will release the film theatrically on April 17th. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in seeing Chasidic people portrayed onscreen as real people. My recommendation is a bit ironic, since actual members of the Chasidic community would no doubt disapprove of the film, given its subject matter and the mere fact that it is a film, something Chasidic people aren’t supposed to watch. However, I’m making that recommendation as a modern orthodox woman who does go to movies.
As I said, I am modern orthodox, but I know and am related to many ultra-orthodox people, including some Chasidim. (“Chasidim” is the plural of Chasid. Also, even though Chasidim are ultra-orthodox, not all ultra-orthodox people are Chasidic.) Almost invariably, when I see portrayals of orthodox people, especially ultra-orthodox people, in television or at the movies, I cringe. Besides the outright inaccuracies about the rules and customs of the community, the characters are generally portrayed as either buffoons providing a punchline or as judgmental robots with no emotions except self-righteous anger. There is judgment in these communities. But there is also humanity.
In “Felix and Meira,” I saw that humanity. Although the main character, Meira (pronounced Meh-eera, emphasis on the last syllable), is unhappy in the community, her unhappiness appears to stem more from the general insularity and restrictions of the lifestyle than with mistreatment. Indeed, her husband, who is very devout, genuinely loves her and tries to deal with her unhappiness. Of course, his support has limits, as he adheres to the restrictions Meira is coming to resent, but his response is still that of a man, not just a machine spouting rules and regulations.
I think one of the main reasons for this realism is the fact that the actor who plays Meira’s husband, Luzer Twersky, was raised as a Satmar Chasid. In the Q&A at the festival, Luzer said that the film’s director, Maxim Giroux, who is not Jewish, asked for his input on all aspects of the film’s representation of chasidic life. I also believe that Twersky’s performance, as well as that of Melissa Weisz, who was also raised Chasidic and plays one of Meira’s friends, were among the most compelling of all the performances in the film because they actually lived that life.