Starring Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, and Alessandro Nivola
Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Written by Sebastián Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Rated: 14A for sexual content, coarse language and tobacco use
Runtime: 114 minutes
Now playing at Landmark Cinemas Edmonton City Centre
It is one thing to be true to oneself but it is too frequently another thing to reconcile that identity with one’s family and its traditions. We’ve seen this theme time and time again in books and in movies. Disobedience is a movie based on a book and both seem to reveal themselves at the same pace.
After Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) is shunned by her ultra-conservative Orthodox Jewish community for the sexual relationship she had with a female friend while they were teenagers, she distances herself psychologically and physically by becoming a photographer in New York. After the death of her father (who is the community’s most prominent rabbi), she finds herself once more beckoned to return to the place of her childhood and so many conflicts. First, she rekindles her friendship with Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) who was her father’s protégé. Then she finds out that he is married to the very same woman she had that teenaged relationship with: Esti (Rachel McAdams). They even invite her to stay with them during the mourning period. If Ronit’s appearance doesn’t create enough waves then the prospect of the two former loves in the same house is certainly enough to put everyone on a thin edge where things could teeter either way.
While Ronit moved away to be truer to herself, Esti stayed and stunted her behaviours in order to conform to her society. “What if a sham is my life?” she asks. When the two of them come back together, well, the past provides a template for their future interactions. The relationship is rekindled, leaving them both in fresh conflict within themselves and with the world around them.
It is actually really well acted by both female leads but man, is it dreadful in its pace: glacial despite the sometimes furtive glances and secretive rendezvous. There is a steamy scene or two to mix things up but albeit brief they’re ultimately gratuitous.
If you like quiet, slow character dramas with tons of dialogue and pregnant, knowing looks, then this is the movie for you. Disobedience is high on the seriousness scale, fairly devoid of humour despite the winsome charms of Weisz, an actress who has one Academy Award and could easily have more if only she chose better, more accessible dramas. I last saw her in My Cousin Rachel, which was a very low-key presentation with a plot that came off far too ambiguously and unsatisfyingly. McAdams, for her part, does a fine job of giving her character a high arc: one who acts as she is expected according to her religious convictions but soon finds herself faced with circumstances that leave her emotionally frazzled and internally troubled. Her whole life is upended and she has to face most of the repercussions in the film. While Weisz is the star, McAdams is the heart, with Nivola playing close to that emotional weight as well.