Review – ‘Disobedience’ is a gripping tale of forbidden romance

Poster for 2018 romantic drama Disobedience

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 30th November 2018
Runtime: 114 minutes
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Writer: Sebastián Lelio, Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola, Anton Lesser
Synopsis: When the death of her father causes her to return to the orthodox Jewish community in which she was raised, a woman rediscovers the romance that led to her self-imposed exile from home.

 

 

The opening act of Disobedience – director Sebastián Lelio‘s follow-up to his Oscar winning A Fantastic Woman – is one of exquisite awkwardness. We follow Rachel Weisz‘s photographer Ronit as she returns to her Orthodox Jewish community in London, having spent the last few years living and working in New York City. She has arrived after hearing the news of her religious leader father’s death, but she is greeted with suspicion and hostility rather than sympathy. When one character tells her that “it’s important this week is conducted with honour”, it sounds a lot like a threat.

It takes a little while before we learn what has happened, but it’s abundantly clear in the terrified glance that passes between Ronit and former best friend Esti (Rachel McAdams) when they first meet again. Esti is married to Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) – a protégé of Ronit’s father – but she clearly has feelings for her estranged friend. These are feelings that are entirely incapable with the Orthodox Jewish world and, whether she fled of her own accord or was chased out, it’s this that led to Ronit’s exile.

With so much of this story conveyed through glances, facial expressions and body language, Lelio places a great deal of trust on the shoulders of his actors. Fortunately, McAdams and Weisz – the latter in the midst of arguably the hottest streak of her career – are more than up to the challenge. Everything about McAdams screams repression and she’s a woman who speaks only when she needs to, as if terrified of the secrets and desires that might spill from her lips. It’s only around Weisz that she lets the facade slip, with timid exploration giving way to explosive, passionate feelings.

The actions of these characters reverberate through their world – there’s not one intensely difficult dinner scene, but two – without Lelio ever labouring his point. The oppressive hostility of the first act gives way to ambiguity and difficulty as the feelings that seemed so natural for these characters prove to butt awkwardly against the harsh realities of their existence. As the relatively unsung third point of something that seems too complex to be called a love triangle, Nivola maximises his screen time as a good man torn between the expectations of his faith and the loyalties of his heart.

Ultimately, Disobedience sits alongside this year’s brilliant Apostasy as a movie that questions whether strict faith can ever be compatible with the modern world. Somewhat ironically, it’s Lelio’s own strict faith in his performers that powers the story to its conclusion – a conclusion that trades not in either idealism or nihilism, but in a very real and incredibly poignant ambiguity.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

As a showcase for two terrific actors at the top of their game, Disobedience is a very impressive drama from Sebastián Lelio. The passion and chemistry that crackles between McAdams and Weisz is palpable and entirely consistent with the notion of lovers kept apart for years.

It’s a meditation on fundamentalist religion’s awkward positioning within a modern world that’s more accepting of people’s sexual identities, but one that never loses the sight of the fact that, first and foremost, it’s about those people.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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