Disobedience

(Lelio, 2018)

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Disobedience follows the story of Ronit (Rachel Weisz), a gay woman who returns to her tight knit Jewish community in north London after the death of her father. It is her first time back since she shunned her because of her sexuality. Upon Ronit’s return, the presence of old and new feelings for Esti (Rachel McAdams) sparks an illicit affair, and pushes the boundaries between sexuality and faith. Luckily, Disobedience steps away from filmic stereotypes and introduces the audience to a unique story about the intersection between moral and social obligations.

From the moment Esti is reintroduced to Ronit, we can tell that the history between them goes deep. Their teenage love affair is soon reignited, and behind closed doors, Ronit and Esti relive the past they once shared before. Their romantic actions are characterized by Ronit’s fierceness and Esti’s timidness, creating dichotomic moments of mutual passion. The dynamic between the two is clearly more impactful on Esti, who has remained a member of their conservative community. Esti’s devout nature is disrupted by Ronit, who makes Esti see that although her devotion to her faith is worthwhile, she has led a life that has not truly allowed her to be happy.

Although the chemistry between Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams is undeniable, Disobedience is not solely sexual. A big part of the narrative comes from Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), Esti’s husband who is being groomed as the new Rav of the congregation following the death of Ronit’s father. Dovid is clearly threatened by Ronit’s arrival, but he is not just an obstruction to Ronit and Esti’s relationship. He respects both Ronit and Esti, and despite his suspicions of his wife’s affair, he is reluctant to confront her and risk harming their image as leaders in the congregation. Dovid’s arc is not about keeping Esti from expressing her sexuality, but rather maintaining a balance between his faith, his image, and what he knows is morally right. All three lead characters subvert the usual expectations of a love triangle, making for a realistic and dynamic movie.

Although slow at times, Disobedience works to highlight the varying natures of the characters, telling a story that is completely engrossing and worthwhile. Sebastián Lelio’s direction is incredibly focused and the nuanced performances from his actors boost the film to a higher level. Overall, Disobedience is a refreshing take on women-loving-women that is rooted in faith rather than fear. ★★★★

Fran Battiato