Disobedience is a superb drama that is carried by engaging performances from all three leading actors. By walking a fine line between love and religion, the director Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman, Gloria) creates a compelling film that holds the audience’s interest even while feeling drawn out at times.
The film asks the timeless question: “What would you do for true love?” Or better yet, “What would you give up?”
Disobedience stars Rachel Weisz as Ronit, a photographer and estranged daughter of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi. After receiving news of her father’s passing, she returns home to an unwelcoming community.
Ronit can’t seem to shake the uneasiness of the disapproving community while staying with her once-close friend, and rabbi’s favourite student, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). When Ronit learns of Dovid’s marriage to Esti (Rachel McAdams), her forbidden partner of years past, she starts down a path of re-ignited passion that pushes the boundaries of commitment and betrayal.
In the film’s opening moments, the cherished rabbi, Rav Krushka (Anton Lessar) is giving a sermon, which turns out to be his final one. A long-winded lesson on free will which serves as a prelude to the film. The obvious choice in subject matter of the sermon is not lost on the audience, even in these early moments. The rabbi doesn’t quite finish, as he collapses and dies in front of his congregation. A foreshadowing of the relationships that are to come in the film.
In the following scenes, we are introduced to Ronit, as she’s working on a photography session with an older tattooed man. The merging of two separate identities, her rebellion and her father’s presence, are subtlety presented in her work. An assistant comes over and tells her there’s an important call to take. This moment is followed by a number of shorter scenes of Ronit drinking alone, hooking up with a stranger, and even ice skating by herself.
This is a beautiful stylistic choice that is constantly made throughout the film as it explores the subtlety of moments. Lelio doesn’t let scenes drag out and relies on the finer points of the acting and script to reveal more about character and plot than any long-winded dialogue could ever attempt to.
The touchy subject of religion is always hard to portray in film. No other subject seems to garner more stark division than religion. In Disobedience, the Orthodox Jewish community is seen as a pillar of systematic oppression of women, while simultaneously being a driving force in understanding and forgiving betrayal.
The problematic representation of women within this subservient community is on full display throughout. The film does the job of bringing that oppression to life through the father-daughter struggle between Ronit and her deceased father, as well as with Dovid and Esti.
With conflicting and contentious themes of sex and religion, the film’s subtlety in storytelling forces the viewer to gain a stronger connection to the characters. The painful internal struggle with all three main characters is a painful reminder of what can be lost in love. With a somewhat surprising resolution, the film inspires hope while still criticizing the ideals and practices laid down before us.
The subtlety and power of every performance lands this film a 3.5 out of 5.
Disobedience is playing at select cinemas near you. Rated R (for some strong sexuality). 114-minutes long.