Disobedience (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir: Sebastien Lelio, US, UK, Ireland 2017, 114 mins

Cast: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola, Allan Corduner, Anton Lesser

Review by Carlie Newman

Frail, elderly Rabbi Krushka (Anton Lesser) preaches a sermon about freedom and choice at an orthodox Jewish synagogue in North London. When he collapses, his daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz), who is living a secular life in New York, learns of her father’s death and returns to the very religious community in London to attend his funeral.

While others in the community treat Ronit with coldness, she is allowed to stay with her friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), her father’s favourite and likely successor. She is surprised to find that he has married Esti (Rachel McAdams) who was also a childhood friend. But, we learn, Esti was more than that to Ronit. They had an affair, which led to Ronit leaving England.

The two realise that they are still attracted to each other and resume their passionate lesbian relationship. They are seen by two members of the community and this leads to grave repercussions. Esti knows that she doesn’t love her husband in the traditional way expected of her. The issue of freedom and choice are addressed by both women. The film looks at the agony of faith versus outside world. We see how female desire is dealt with in a patriarchal religious community.

Wonderful acting by all three leads gives the film a feeling of reality. We understand a little of the ways that their faith constricts both men and women to a certain formal way of life. Great sensitivity is shown in Rachel McAdams’ portrait of a woman who has a forbidden relationship. We see the love in Esti’s eyes as she and Ronit make love. This very erotic scene is enhanced by the equally good portrayal of a love that Rachel Wiesz as Ronit knows will never be accepted by the community her father led. Both actresses are able to convey their inner life.

Alessandro Nivola is also just right in his characterisation of the obedient student who has become a Rabbi and is set to become heir to Ronit’s dead father. He, too, has to look at what freedom to choose actually means. Good, too, are actors in the smaller parts. Anton Lesser is a fierce Rabbi, leading his congregation along paths that he believes to be what God has ordered. A competent performance too from Allan Corduner as Moshe who has to tell Ronit that her father has left everything he owns to the synagogue and not to her. He has disowned his only child.

Director Tim Wardle has chosen to have the film shot in a muted colour, giving the film an overall miserable feel to it. Cinematographer Danny Cohen catches the mood beautifully with his shots.

The film deals very sensitively with issues of an orthodox religion and its dictates coming into conflict with the modern world. It faces the challenges of the sexual attraction of two women. The movie also manages to avoid a conventional ending. See it and enjoy!