Movie Review – Disobedience
The director of this film just won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Sebastián Lelio won for A Fantastic Woman, a LGBT film focusing on a female facing bigotry and discrimination. This film is also a LGBT film focusing on a female facing bigotry and discrimination. In A Fantastic Woman, the protagonist was a transgender woman. Here, the protagonist in question is a gay woman or lesbian. Instead of Santiago, Chile, this movie is set in London, England. Specifically, this movie takes place in the northwest area of London, within an Orthodox Jewish community there. The movie is an adaptation of the 2006 debut novel of Naomi Alderman.
Rachel Weisz who won an Oscar for The Constant Gardener (2005) stars as Ronnie Curtis, a photographer in New York City. However, her real name is Ronit Krushka and she’s actually the daughter of a rabbi in Hendon, a suburb of London. When her father dies suddenly, she rushes home to attend his funeral. The funeral arrangements are being handled by Ronit’s former best friend, Dovid Kuperman, played by Alessandro Nivola (Junebug and Jurassic Park III). Dovid is also in line to become the next rabbi who takes over for Ronit’s father. As a result, Ronit ends up staying the night at Dovid’s house until the funeral.
Rachel McAdams (Spotlight and The Notebook) co-stars as Esti Kuperman, the wife of the assumptive rabbi, Dovid. She’s a teacher at an all-girls school. She gives classes in literature and loves her students, but she doesn’t have children of her own. Sex with her husband is routine and she’s not excited about it. She reveals rather quickly that she’s more attracted to Ronit. For Esti, she’s more attracted to women than men unlike Ronit who’s either bisexual or sexually fluid. However, Esti was forced into marriage, which caused her to suppress her homosexuality for years.
Unlike A Fantastic Woman, Lelio never makes the bigotry or the homophobia as clear here as it perhaps needed to be. Understandably, some bigotry isn’t as blatant. It can be subtle or nuanced, but in a film or visual presentation, there is a fine line where that subtlety can pass for nothing at all and the true weight or threat isn’t really felt or believed. Lelio skirts that line here. McAdams’ performance helps to sell it, but she perhaps isn’t enough.
One would think the religious community would play more a role here. The Orthodox Jewish community here isn’t like the Hasidic Jewish communities depicted in films like Menashe (2017) or One of Us (2017), which puts a lot of pressure on people and their relationships to live life one particular way or face excommunication and total shunning. The social consequences of which can be devastating to a person who knows no other way of life. However, the Orthodox Jews in this film don’t feel as restricting or controlling.
There is one scene where Esti’s teaching job might be threatened but that ultimately doesn’t go anywhere. The so-called homophobia among the Orthodox Jews here doesn’t seem any different historically from any kind of homophobia any where and less of a threat than in films like Carol (2015) or Battle of the Sexes (2017). Maybe that’s the point to show parity in that regard. Yet, the movie makes the religious aspects a pronounced thing but not enough to feel how those aspects are antagonistic to this situation.
Weisz’s performance is also good as a woman dealing with the loss of her father but also the guilt of having abandoned him. She has some scenes where she can really express that, but the movie becomes more consumed with the hidden passion between Ronit and Esti. Yet, when the film comes back around to Ronit’s grief over her dead father, it doesn’t land as well as the grief over a lost loved one in A Fantastic Woman. I’m not sure the film does enough to make us feel the relationship between Ronit and her father.
Rated R for some strong sexuality.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 54 mins.
Playing in select cities.
Available on DVD/VOD on July 17.