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Movie review: Disobedience

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Posted on May 21, 2018 |
By Joan Ellis



Disobedience film review.jpg
Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola star in “Disobedience” (2017).

Disobedience —Running Time: 1:54 — Rating: R

 

“Disobedience” is a quiet, strong movie that pierces convention in many ways. The risks it takes are delivered with subtle use of gestures and voice. Director Sebastian Lelio, his team and a fine cast have delivered an unusually complex story in a provocative way.

Ronit, a professional photographer in New York, has returned to London’s orthodox Jewish community to attend the funeral of her father, Rav Kruschka (Anton Kesser). She is greeted with widespread disdain by those who believe she deserted him. Two old friends welcome this woman they once knew so well. It is the three of them who will deliver the complicated emotions of the movie with quiet skill that holds our attention.

Ronit (Rachel Weisz) and Esti (Rachel McAdams) had experienced attraction to each other as teenagers and Ronit is astonished to find that Esti has married their old friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). The two women find their mutual attraction very much alive and it unfolds against the anger of the orthodox community. Confusion engulfs the three of them.

That confusion is born of the anger of the tightly knit religious community, of Dovid’s understandable distress, and of the deep honesty of each of the women who love each other despite the rigidity that surrounds them. As their physical affair unfolds, they show us the confines of the community that Ronit once ran from and Esti has accepted. We watch three adults work toward a decision in a culture with strict rules for thinking and behavior.

Each of the women delivers her prevailing philosophy of life. Ronit, who couldn’t stand the conformity of the orthodox community, fled to New York to escape her resentment. The anger resurfaces as soon as she returns to London. Esti, who shares so much of Ronit’s bright spirit, falls into deep confusion — to stay in loyalty to husband and orthodoxy or to flee with her friend.

Esti, after all, is married, in a restrained and acceptable kind of way, to Dovid, who is a rising power in the consuming culture of the orthodox faith. It is all heightened by the affair — both emotional and physical — that unfolds between Esti and Ronit. In lesser hands, all this could easily have been a genuine misfire. Delivery without histrionics by Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola, leaves us free to sink into their dilemma with genuine curiosity.

What is the role of a deeply strict religious culture in a modern society that celebrates personal freedom? What happens when smart young adults who grew up in that culture are lured by the new flexibility of the modern world? The absence of villains here is what makes this movie provocative. Because the acting is so good, we are free to explore all the questions they are asking. Do I stay, or do I go? Which rules: loyalty or freedom? Three exceptional actors lead us in that search while remaining honorable and kind.

— Reviewed by Joan Ellis

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