Directed by Sebastián Lelio.
Starring Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Allesandro Nivola, Allan Corduner, Anton Lesser, and Nicholas Woodison.
Ostracised from her Orthodox Jewish community in London for her relationship with a childhood friend, Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) returns from New York to attend a family funeral, and in doing so reignites the prejudice and ill feeling that has lingered since she left, as well as her long buried feelings for Esti (Rachel McAdams).
In keeping with the subtle normalcy of Sebastián Lelio’s follow-up to A Fantastic Woman, the actresses embodying the forbidden lovers at the heart of this tale will be lauded for bigger roles in 2018. Rachel McAdams stole the year’s best comedy, Game Night, and Weisz will be a name omnipresent when it comes to award’s ballot forms for her performance in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite (read our ★ ★ ★ ★ review here). However, you could argue that both turns should take a backseat to the restrained brilliance of their performances in Disobedience, which bristle with a static energy that brings a passionate warmth to the cold brick world the characters inhabit.
The story is hardly a fresh one, with star-crossed lover narratives peppering the big screen through the ages, and whether it’s warring families or the indoctrination of certain religious beliefs that keep a couple apart, you have to believe in that relationship in order to care whether or not they make it in the end. And while the Orthodox background upon which this plays out makes for a refreshing look at a culture that has rarely been explored in cinema, and is integral to why Ronit and Esti cannot be together, it’s the burgeoning love story that’s the hook.
Having remained within her Jewish community, with her sexuality repressed into a marriage of convenience with Allesandro Nivola’s Dovid, a union that isn’t without love, but remains one of distant stares and coldness when it comes to intimacy, McAdams’ Esti is the quieter of the two. Burdened by the weight of her personal history, and the expectations placed upon her by the congregation, she’s introduced as a maudlin spectre. Impressive are the cracks of life which begin to appear as her feelings resurface, emotions that are delicately handled by McAdams, her head slowly lifting as Esti begins to emerge from years of silent suffering.
The catalyst for her change is Weisz, whose confidence is the complete antithesis of McAdams, but is an equally studied and subtle turn. Balancing the internal conflict of her past and present, Weisz’s performance is the driving force of the movie. Imbuing Ronit with a vulnerability that makes her completely empathic, especially the way in which her nervousness at opening up old wounds dovetails with the rekindled passion of Esti. Little is said between the two, but you’re never in any doubt about their depth of feeling, and that’s down to two actors at the very top of their game.
Allesandro Nivola is also worthy of praise; in less capable hands Dovid could simply have emerged as the pantomime villain, consumed by what he believes is right or wrong in order to act simply as a plot device for the romance thread between the women in his life. Instead he’s a conflicted, complex character who earns as much sympathy as anyone caught up in this tangled web of passion.
Lelio makes the most of residential London, with the concrete streets accentuating the frosty mood that hangs over these shunned characters, and directs with a balanced world view that’s never simply black or white. Nothing is easy in this world, and Disobedience offers up little in terms of condemnation or solution, simply choosing to offer up a powerful sermon about love.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt