“Hasidic people don’t really understand the idea of love,” said Luzer Twersky, 30, who left his Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn at 22 to become an actor in Hollywood. “They don’t get it. You’re 18, you have eight or nine kids by 35, you have grandkids, then you die.”
In director Maxime Giroux’s Canadian foreign-language Oscar submission “Felix and Meira,” which won Best Canadian feature at Toronto 2014, Twersky plays a mournful Hasidic husband in Montreal who begins to get — and also to prove — what love means when his beautiful wife, Meira (Hadras Yaron), falls in love with a Francophone goy named Felix (Martin Dubreuil).
“I’m a Catholic, I don’t know anything about Judaism,” said Giroux, speaking with moderator and TheWrap’s awards editor Steve Pond at Los Angeles’ iPic Theater. But his Montreal neighborhood was full of Hasidim he looked right past for years. “I wanted to know more about them, so I made this movie.”
Twersky serves not only as a lead but as the film’s authenticity consultant. “I’ve become a face of the ex-Hasidic community,” said Twersky, who wears his own clothing in the film (he also plays a West Virginia meth head in Pearl Gluck’s forthcoming “The Turn Out” and a role in next season’s “Transparent”). He warns filmmakers not to use Stars of David in a film about Hasidim, for instance. “They don’t use them, because it’s the Israeli symbol, and a lot of Hasidic sects are actually pretty anti-Israel,” Twersky said.
More important, Giroux and Twersky focused on the hearts and minds of the characters, as in a scene in which Meira innocently spots an ordinary couple making love in a window. “When you see her looking in the window at the couple, it was a little like me [watching the Hasidic community],” Giroux said.
The director scored the scene with “Famous Blue Raincoat,” by Montreal Jewish singer-turned-monk Leonard Cohen, to convey the troubled wife’s yearning not just for love but for lost youth. “She never was a teen, and at 14, 15, 16, it’s super-important to define yourself through music.” Another musical sequence in the film features Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s 1964 performance of “Didn’t It Rain.”
Though there’s a glimpse of nudity, the film is essentially chaste. “[Meira] wears a wig,” said Giroux. “What is more important to her than sex is a man who touches her hair for the first time. That’s more erotic than a sex scene.”