Disobedience - 2018
Director(s): Sebastián Lelio
Writer(s): Sebastián Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz (screenplay) / Naomi Alderman (novel)
Cinematography by: Danny Cohen
Editor(s): Nathan Nugent
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola
Synopsis: A woman returns to the community that shunned her for her attraction to a childhood friend. Once back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality (IMDB).
When I see trailers like the one for this movie I genuinely get excited. This is the merging of two worlds (Judaism and Homosexuality) I have no life experience of and one of my only windows into understanding them are sometimes movies. While I enjoy movies inside my comfort zone, I look forward to the ones outside of it that will broaden my horizons even if the movie isn’t 100% accurately representing the topics. They still raise enough questions in me to later dig a bit deeper into the subject matter, to further understand the meaning or the purpose behind the subject I just witnessed. In Disobedience, we explore a deeply religious community dealing with both the death of their Rabbi and the return of his daughter, who abandoned the faith and brought shame to the Rabbi.
Now, this movie isn’t for everyone. It is slow, methodical and at times on the surface nothing is happening. But, like the calm surface of the ocean, once we go underneath we find can find an undertow that will take you in directions you didn’t expect. Almost every scene is constructed in a way that you can see the effort it takes for both Ronit, played by Rachel Weisz, and Esti, played by Rachel McAdams, to keep the waters above calm in the face of the community. Yet, there is an undertow of emotions and desires deeply repressed due to their faith and their standings in the community. This is also visually represented by the fact that Etsi, as a married woman, must wear wigs or sheitels to cover her hair. Hiding away her nature and her true self from society, only letting her hair and desires out in front of the one she loves, Ronit.
Director Sebastián Lelio is coming of his Oscar winning film (Best Foreign), A Fantastic Woman, where he tackled how society treats a transgender woman. In Disobedience, he tackles how homosexuality is viewed and treated within a deeply religious community. Not only that, he also tackles one’s tendencies to question and struggle religious beliefs when they come between us and what we deem as happiness. This is reflected in the character of Dovid, played perfectly by Alessandro Nivola. He is the spiritual successor and quasi-adopted son of the Rabbi and husband of Etsi. He has given himself wholly to his religion and his faith, and now he is hit with the fact that his wife no longer wants to be with him because of her sexual preferences. Yet he deeply loves her and can’t see himself hating o doing what his mentor did to his daughter, ostracizing her from her community and his life.
Probably the best scene of the entire movie comes during the third act as they are performing the Hesped (public eulogy) for the Rabbi. Dovid is tasked with speaking in front of the congregation, both saying farewell to the Rabbi and accepting the title of the congregation’s new Rabbi. Before arriving at the temple, he was confronted by Etsi where she revealed her truth to him and asked him to accept her and give her the freedom she desperately desires. Lelio and cinematographer Danny Cohen shot this monologue in tight close-up that continuously goes in and out of focus and Dovid’s internal struggles muddies his views of both his community and his faith. The torment and the uncertainty of his future is in constant visual representation through the camera work and Nivola’s performance. This is easily the scene with the most emotional impact and the one that perfectly encapsulates the main theme of the movie. Are my religious beliefs in the way of my and other people’s happiness? We see how hurt Ronit is from being abandoned by her father, we see how conflicted and tormented Etsi is by her sexual identity, and we see Dovid question what is right and wrong when it comes to the judgement of both due to his religious beliefs.
With all that said, I didn’t love this movie. It has some pacing issues as you feel the runtime and it felt like it was about to end multiple times. I didn’t buy the chemistry between Weisz and McAdams. The religious aspects that I have touched upon are what really stuck with me and not the love story within the runtime. Maybe I’m looking at the movie wrong and it was all about religion, but the love story never really materialized in my eyes and the ending leaves a little more to be desired.
Disobedience is a good movie, not what I was expecting, but I walked away with a lot of themes to explore. I learned a lot about Judaic customs and I found the community aspect fascinating. The directing was great, even with the pacing issues, and the acting was fantastic by its three main leads, even if the chemistry wasn’t 100% there. I’m conflicted as to whether I should give my full recommendation or simply let you decide if this movie is for you, but probably you already decided for yourself if you want to see it. Walking in with answers and walking away with questions is why I love movies.
Disobedience is currently playing in theaters near you. Up to you boss.
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