Disobedience shook us to our very cores. Our hearts ached for Ronit as she confronted her complicated past. This film by Academy Award winning director Sebastian Leilo deals with the crushing effects of the place you call home not accepting your way of loving. The filming is gorgeous and tantalizing, and Weisz and McAdams are electric in their roles (as always). This one's a slow-burn, but trust us, it is sooooo worth it.
Depicting the problems that can arise when deeply held spiritual beliefs clash with notions of personal freedom, Disobedience is the story of a forbidden love given a second chance. Based on Naomi Alderman's 2006 novel, written for the screen by Sebastian Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, and directed by Lelio, the film deals with a lesbian relationship within London's relatively insular Modern Orthodox Jewish community. Uninterested in presenting a binary story where faith is the Big Bad, although the film is certainly critical of the strictures that can result from a rigid application of Jewish religious law, the community itself is depicted respectfully.
When Rav Kruschka (Anton Lesser) dies in the midst of a service, his estranged daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns home from New York, heading to the house of Dovid (a superb Alessandro Nivola), her childhood friend, and Kruska's protege. Although the community isn't happy to see her, Dovid offers her a spare room. She accepts and is stunned to learn he is married to Esti (Rachel McAdams), another childhood friend. Over the next few days as the community prepare for Krushka's funeral, it becomes clear that Ronit and Esti were once more than friends, and the more time they spend in one another's company, the more their suppressed feelings come to the surface.
Thematically, Disobedience is far more concerned with the clash of views that result from Ronit's return than it is with condemning the beliefs of the community per se. On paper, the story might lend itself to a condemnation of the kind of social suffocation and emotional repression that can result from fundamentalism. Instead, however, the film spends time building a respectful, if not idealised, picture of the community. A key part in this is Dovid himself. In a less nuanced film, he would be a fire-and-brimstone Roger Chillingworth-type, an obstacle to Ronit and Esti's happiness. Instead he is presented as someone who faces a difficult choice - that between his communal position and his faith on the one hand, and his genuine love of Esti and affection for Ronit on the other.
However, for all that, the film never lets you forget that this is a community where married women must wear a sheitel wig in public and where the genders are strictly divided at religious services. As Ronit and Esti discuss their sexuality, Esti points out that she and Dovid have sex every Friday night, "as is expected", and that the reason she was married to him in the first place was that Krushka hoped "marriage would cure" her lesbian desire. In this sense, although respectful of the community, the film certainly challenges its myopic sexism.
Obviously, a major theme is sexuality. There are actually two sex scenes in the film; one between Ronit and Esti, and the other between Esti and Dovid. And although they couldn't be more different, they also couldn't exist without one another, as the abandonment, lust, and sense of pressure being released when Esti is with Ronit contrasts sharply with the detached, formulaic, and passionless scene with Dovid. The scene between Ronit and Esti is the physical manifestation of the characters' long-repressed desire. It's a wholly justified narrative moment, and a necessary beat for the two characters. It's not an aside or a piece of voyeuristic male fantasy, it's the centre of the whole film. Together, the two scenes represent Esti's binary choice - an unbridled and sexually fulfilling, but unstable relationship with Ronit, or a dutiful and dull, but respectful and secure relationship with Dovid.
If I had one major criticism, it would be that although Lelio's direction is subtle, some of his and Lenkiewicz's writing choices are spectacularly on the nose. The opening sermon is a good example - a religious diatribe whose subject is mankind's freedom to choose, the concomitant ability to disobey, and the notion that freedom is impossible without sacrifice, in a film about these very same issues. The worst example of this, however, is found when Ronit and Esti go to Krushka's house and Ronit turns on the radio, which just so happens to be playing The Cure's "Lovesong", a song which perfectly encapsulates their situation.
These issues aside though, this is an excellently crafted film. Once again examining female desire, issues of patriarchal oppression, and profound self-doubt, Lelio delivers a mature and considered meditation on the conflict between faith and sexuality. Equal parts sensual and spiritual, the lethargic pace and absence of any narrative fireworks will probably alienate some, but for the rest of us, this is thoughtful and provocative cinema.
This is my third film by the director, Gloria (which he's remaking for us lazy English speakers who refuse to watch foreign films... ū(TM)) was really well done and A Fantastic Woman (despite its flaws) was a really intriguing look into a world I hadn't seen before.
Disobedience fell flat for me, I didn't know what to expect going into it but I do know that I was hoping for something with more of a lasting impact. I will say there was one scene that was very powerful for me, I recently compared it to a scene from Call Me by Your Name (which I also didn't like as a whole).
This is actually my last avaliable film I can see without purchasing anything blindly (thanks to Netflix and Amazon Prime video) before the Oscar nominations on Tuesday. So that worked out really well! I wouldn't be hurt at all if McAdams or Weisz got a nomination. Oddly enough, I really enjoyed their respective roles even though I think the film didn't hit! (Has anyone else had an experience like that?)
I couldn't help but think the entire film about what it would be like with a change of scenery. I would've been interested to see if she was coming home to New York instead. It's a fun experience to wonder what if in movies (in my opinion).
I really feel like a lot of things could've gone differently in this to make it a far more interesting film for me. I enjoyed a lot of the dialogue but it seemed like much of that was wasted.
Over the last few weeks, I realize just how much I wish I could attend TIFF! So many powerful film seem to premiere there! Seeing the talks about people going to Sundance is making me jealous as well! I'd love to attend a really meaningful film festival!
Yet again I'm not going to make any judgments on religious beliefs, in particular Judaism.
Here we see a character called Ronit (Rachel Weisz) return to her childhood home in a strict Jewish orthodox community in London after learning her chief rabbi father has died.
Ronit shunned the Jewish lifestyle for a 'free' lifestyle in New York in the course of this cutting off contact with her old lifestyle expectations that some of her childhood friends including Esti (Rachel McAdams) and Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) have followed with a loveless marriage.
The film also explores some themes of lesbianism as Ronit and Esti briefly rekindle their lesbian relationship tendencies. Weisz follows similar themes in The Favourite.
To a non-Jew the film gives a brief insight into the orthodox lifestyle and beliefs and is thought provoking in the process.