(Image courtesy of Bleecker Street)
DISOBEDIENCE— 4 STARS
The intensity of the torrid on-screen affair in Disobedience is as strong as the rhetoric of oppression that simmers under the surface of the characters and the community they occupy. Newly gilded Oscar winner Sebastián Lelio’s follow-up to his Academy Award-winning foreign language film A Fantastic Woman teems with deeply stirring passion. Performed to a level of high commitment by Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, the film repeatedly demonstrates that one of the best ways to build passion in a film is to present the implicit unspoken in a manor to outweigh explicit expression. The fates tempted here are subtly perilous.
Ronit Krushka (Oscar winner Rachel Weisz) is a high-end English photographer in New York City working under the less-ethnic name of “Ronnie Curtis.” Introduced with confidence and skill, she receives a phone call that tailspins her out of her work element. Jarred by some unknown painful news, Ronit heads to a seedy bar to engage in a loveless bathroom hookup and post-coital ice skating reflection and breakdown. As it turns out, she has learned that her father has passed away back in England.
Her father wasn’t just anyone. He was the highest ranking rabbi of the strict Orthodox Jewish community that she fearlessly abandoned years ago to live her own more progressive lifestyle. They may not have seen eye-to-eye, but he was still the man Ronit cherished as a parent. Flying home to the Cricklewood suburb of northeast London, her reappearance is met predominantly with gossiped shame, save for two former friends, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola, recently of You Were Never Really Here) and his wife Esti (Oscar nominee McAdams, speaking impeccable kings), who give her a place to stay while matters are finalized.
Revealed a morsel at a time through dialogue dueling with bated breath and dramatic nuances of eye contact, there is triangular connection between Dovid, Esti, and Ronit. It is history that makes seeing Dovid, the next in line for leadership, and Esti married awkward for Ronit, even as the untamed one that turned her back on faith and disappeared while the other maintained expectations and stayed. Brewed in a cauldron of caustic traditions, sensibilities, taboos, and societal commentary, Disobedience applies pressure to all stresses and cracks of virtues.
Adapted from Naomi Alderman salacious best-seller by Leilo and award-winning screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida), Disobedience never spoon-feeds obvious exposition into this mysterious drama. It is up to sharp eye of the audience to decipher the looks, leans, and other pensive notes of body language. This is a masterful creation of tone from the director. This slow play does not resonate without the two leading ladies. Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams both create blisteringly embattled performances, one exploding from a place of grief and the latter from a place of unlocked dormancy. Beyond fearless, the two are absolutely volcanic both separately and together. Not to be outdone, the silent internal struggles of Alessandro Nivola’s are given their own release.
The culminating dreadful tension and high intrigue created by Weisz and McAdams is incredibly palpable, supported by a sublime musical simmer from electronica artist Matthew Herbert, re-teaming with Leilo after A Fantastic Woman. Brit cinematographer and Tom Hooper go-to Danny Cohen (The Theory of Everything) lensed the breaking points for mindful editing from Nathan Nugent (Room). Disobedience is a challenging film and a sinful feather rustler for sure. Not everyone can morally stomach these human flaws. However, there is no denying the power of the presentation and performance to strive for spiritual elegance.
LESSON #1: THE DEFINITION OF “DISOBEDIENCE”— The title is apt and telling all the same when you observe the simple dictionary definition that reads “refusal or neglect to obey.” This film punches with those first two verbs of that definition to challenge the written and unwritten rules for the third verb.
LESSON #2: FREEDOM TO CHOOSE— When conversation brews, Ronit finds the old and current traditions antiquated to gender roles and modern societal interests. She spouts that in a community that will not bend. Long ago, she chose to remove herself from that insulated and known environment and entices Esti to do the same. It is an impossible choice considering her family and position.
LESSON #3: THE MANY SUPPRESSIONS OF DESIRE— Disobedience displays closeted sexual yearning in a setting where saying “frowned upon” is an understatement. Scheduled mandatory sexual relations in married households and the prevailing thought that a marriage between a man and woman, as their religion intends and demands, can cure divergent passions and indulgences of physical love outside of those boundaries are the societal expectations matching the “obey” of Lesson #1. The question becomes where does true love fit into such rigid norms.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#682)