Sebastián Lelio, director of 2017’s critically acclaimed A Fantastic Woman, returns to screens this month with Disobedience, an adaptation of award-winning author Naomi Alderman‘s powerful novel of the same name.
Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) travels back to north London from New York after she’s informed of the death of her estranged father Rav Krushka, who passed away whilst delivering a sermon to his Orthodox Jewish congregation. On her return, Ronit is invited to stay at the home of childhood friend Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), who was a devoted part of the Rav’s congregation.
The tone of Ronit’s visit changes, suddenly and quite drastically, when she discovers that Dovid is now married to Esti (Rachel McAdams). You see, alongside her giving up Judaism, Ronit’s estrangement from her father and the community came about because of her and Esti’s teenage love affair. Despite this, the pair are respectful and keep their distance from each other, until Ronit visits her father’s house to collect his belongings. Accompanied by Esti, they discuss the past, with Esti making a move on Ronit during the walk home. She discloses that she hasn’t been with any other women since Ronit’s departure, but that she’s a lesbian, in love with her.
What quickly follows is a messy unravelling of hidden feelings and secrets, coming to light in the revelation that Esti was the one to suggest contacting Ronit about her father’s death, setting in motion their reconciliation. With Ronit planning on returning to New York, Esti devoted to her religion and married to Dovid – who is now being eyed as the Rav’s replacement, a huge and respected responsibility in the Orthodox community – how will the pair leave things?
As expected, both Weisz and McAdams are stunning. Weisz’s Ronit is confident, relaxed, having distanced herself from the confines of her strict early life. She’s proud of her identity, and will confront others who are uncomfortable with who she is and what she represents. Despite the years and miles of distance, she still cares deeply for her father, and Weisz’s measured, emotional performance reflects this. McAdams’ Esti is a strong contrast to Ronit; quiet, reserved, an obedient wife and member of the Orthodox community. Yet she is the one who makes the first move, announcing her feelings, disobeying. Weisz and McAdams are almost natural lovers on screen, with their intimacy handled with care and sensitivity by both director Lelio and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Nivola’s Dovid is, much like Esti, quiet and reserved, but an intimidating anger bubbles under the surface, joining the Rachel’s as the film’s biggest highlight.
Disobedience is a sad, tender tale, pitting religion against love. Stay for the performances, subtle direction, and the film’s quiet, intimate moments.
Disobedience is released in cinemas in the UK on 30 November by Curzon Artificial Eye.