Sebastián Lelio, the son of an Argentinean architect and a Chilean ballet dancer, is one of the most praised representatives of contemporary Chilean cinema alongside Pablo Larrain. His debut feature, The Sacred Family, came out in 2005, but it was only in 2013 that the filmmaker got the deserved attention with the unforgettable drama Gloria, an international success and his best film to date. The film collected many prizes in festivals such as Berlin, Lima, Havana, and Palm Springs, yet, none of them was so precious as the recent Oscar in the category of best foreign film with A Fantastic Woman, which relaunched the acting career of transgender classical singer Daniela Vega.
With love and sexuality as recurrent topics, Disobedience, starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, utilizes different colors to illustrate known patterns, only transferred to a dissimilar setting. Lelio teamed up with Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida) in the adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s novel of the same name. The story is set in suburban London and follows the prohibited love between two Orthodox Jewish women and childhood friends, who reconnect after years of growing apart.
“…follows the prohibited love between two Orthodox Jewish women and childhood friends,”
The non-practicing Ronit (Weisz) is a successful, if erratic, photographer living in New York for many years. She flies to her hometown, Hendon, London, as she learns about the death of her father, a prominent rabbi whose inflamed exhortations used to include subjects as the clarity of the angels, the desires of the beast, and the freedom of choice given to every human being. The family members are incredulous, in some cases even a bit overwhelmed, with her presence. However, her cousin Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) was nice enough to welcome her into his house. The complication comes from the fact that he married Esti (McAdams), Ronit’s former teenage lover, who, living an unhappy life, is still madly attracted to her. She profoundly admires the liberal Ronit, a symbol of feminist prowess, for having had the courage to escape the religious strictness of their cultural roots. The only enjoyable thing in her life seems to be her work.
“…first-class performances from McAdams and Weisz are good reasons to watch…”
There is a sense of despair enveloping the two female characters since what they feel for each other is much stronger than any rigid rule imposed by the society. While in the company of Esti at her father’s unoccupied house, disappointingly left to the Synagogue, Ronit tunes a radio station that was playing ‘Love Song’ by the goth-rock band The Cure. The song seems to bring voluptuous old memories. Tender kisses turn up naturally and the disobedience to the rules recklessly extends beyond the house, putting Esti’s reputation in danger. What to do next, when the secret is revealed?
Despite beautifully conceived until this moment, the powerful drama becomes contrived. Initially built with an enthralling tension and clever insight, it suddenly fails to grasp in its flimsy climax. Dovid’s impulsive change in posture regarding Esti’s quest for freedom felt too flexible and untroubled, tolerating emotions to become forged, more fabricated than genuine. Even if the romantic triangle didn’t work so well, the first-class performances from McAdams and Weisz are good reasons to watch Disobedience. The way they come to grips with the conflict between religious austerity and taboo lesbian romance in their secluded community is still complex and interesting.
Disobedience (2018) Directed by Sebastián Lelio. Written by Sebastián Lelio, Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Starring Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola.
Rating – 6 out of 10