Cast: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola, Anton Lesser
Director: Sebastian Lelio
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: From Sebastián Lelio, the director of the Academy Award-winning A Fantastic Woman, the film follows a woman as she returns to the community that shunned her decades earlier for an attraction to a childhood friend. Once back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality. Written by Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz and based on Naomi Alderman’s book, the film stars Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola.
After directing 2017’s Academy Award winning Best Foreign Language Film A Fantastic Woman, Sebastian Lelio’s next film Disobedience tackles the difficult subject of forbidden lesbian love in a strict religious society. Stacked with an established and talented group of actors, the question is can Lelio capture his previous level of success in his new endeavor? Powered by incredible performances from the three main actors and a story that as intense as it is beautiful show that Lelio’s success was not a one-hit wonder that he is an incredibly talented and sensitive director.
The film center’s around Ronit (Weisz), a British Orthodox Jew living in New York who receives news that her father (Lesser), a prominent rabbi in his community, has passed away. When she comes back to England for the funeral processions, she discovers that her adopted brother Dovid (Nivola) has married her childhood best friend Esti (McAdams) and that the community still does not accept Ronit for her decision to leave the community and pursue her own dreams and aspirations. When Esti confines in Ronit that she is unhappy in her marriage, old feelings emerge and everyone’s standing within the community is in jeopardy. Since this movie focuses on the emotional connection between the three characters, it is only appropriate to start off evaluating their performances. Weisz, McAdams, and Nivola are incredible in their roles and sell the uniquely complex story that their characters are involved in. Nivola in particular is incredible not necessarily as a villain, but more so as the film’s antagonist. As the film progressed, I went from resenting Dovid and his actions to sympathizing with him and his attempts to save his marriage and I do not think I would have felt that way without his performance. Moving on to the two lead actresses, Weisz and McAdams not only have excellent chemistry with one another and their characters are excellent foils for one another. Ronit is a strong and independent woman who constantly clashes with the authority of her Orthodox community while Esti is more passive and admires Ronit’s ability to stand up for herself. Weisz and McAdams immerse themselves in these roles and show us that their relationship and the relationships they have with other characters are real. Outside of the acting, one of the things I wanted to focus on was the way that the sex scenes throughout the movie were shot. While one in particular is incredibly intense, I thought for the most part they were shot in a very tasteful manner. Similar to that of Call Me By Your Name, I felt as though many of the scenes represented love and passion rather than lust and pleasure. This is where a well-directed movie and a story that spends time developing these character’s relationships before getting into the physical aspect of their lives shines, so Lelio deserves all the credit he is getting for this film. Regarding the story, this is not the type of story we usually see made very often, but it is an important story to tell, especially for those who suffer in the same situation that Esti did. These types of problems exist in all extremely religious communities and show us the true pain that people without a voice have, so to showcase that and show viewers who may be less familiar with the oppression that people in these situations may face is admirable. Not only is important for this type of story to be told, but to be done with the level of detail and artistry that Disobedience displays makes it that much more likely that the message will be taken seriously.
Overall, Disobedience takes a harsh look at the reality that oppresses the lesbian community in extremely religious sects and combines it with phenomenal acting and storytelling. The one small concern I had is that at times the film drags on for a while and takes its sweet time getting to the point, but honestly the journey is worth the wait. Lelio has once again established himself as a director who can paint a beautiful picture on our screens and I hope he gets more of a mainstream opportunity to showcase his work in the future.
Overall Score: 8/10