THE STORY – Photographer Ronit Krushka returns to the community that shunned her decades earlier for her childhood attraction to a female friend. Their reunion soon reignites their passion as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality.
THE CAST – Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams & Alessandro Nivola
THE TEAM – Sebastián Lelio (Director/Writer) & Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 114 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
Right from the opening moments of Sebastián Lelio’s (“A Fantastic Woman“) new film “Disobedience,” we are instantly hooked by actor Anton Lesser’s opening monologue talking about trust, freedom and the relationship between men and women and how that is tied to their faith. Those opening themes are carried through the film’s story and provide the main trio of actors some meaty dialogue and scenes of great emotional weight. “Disobedience” thrives on the performances of Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, and Alessandro Nivola and gives us a lot to chew on when discussing freedom, whether it is spiritual freedom, sexual freedom or a combination of both.
Ronita Krushka (Rachel Weisz) is a photographer living in New York who receives a call one day that her father Rav Kruschka (Anton Lesser) has passed away in London. Despite having left her Orthodox Jewish community behind years ago, as the only living child of Rav, she travels back home and re-encounters her childhood friend Rabbi Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), who became a surrogate son to Rav in Ronita’s absence. She discovers that Dovid has married Esti (Rachel McAdams), a woman who Ronita used to be more than just friends with during her earlier years back at home. While trying to honor her father in a community that no longer wants her, Ronita’s passionate relationship with Esti begins to resurface causing friction and confusing emotions amongst the three childhood friends.
Rachel McAdams was recently nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the Best Picture-winning “Spotlight” (2015). She is not only better here in “Disobedience” but I would venture to say it ranks at the very top of her long list of stellar performances. Never before have we seen her this vulnerable, repressed and in her scenes with Rachel Weisz, so alive. It’s truly one of the best performances of the year and one that I hope people will remember when we come to awards season later in the year. Rachel Weisz is also predictably excellent in the lead role as a woman whose attitudes and behaviors are contrasted against the world which she willingly left behind. She’s at her best when she’s sharing the screen with McAdams, as the two’s relationship is explored through their glances, body language and dialogue without the need to show us any flashbacks. It’s a relationship that feels so authentic that you have no choice but to get swept up in it. The surprise of the film though is Alessandro Nivola. Many may not at first recognize him but by the time the film arrives at his enormous scene towards the end where he must make the most difficult decision of his life, his performance not only peaks but so too will your interest in seeing where this actor goes next. He’s complex, dramatic and incredibly strong in a role that is very quiet but contains reserved power underneath the surface.
“Disobedience” is not perfect though. While Lelio continues to show a talent for pacing, camera movement (Cinematographer Danny Cohen has a number of shots that are expertly framed, focused and lit) and digging deep to get wonderful performances out of his actors, there are a number of instances where the screenplay pushes a number of forced contrivances and awkward moments onto the viewer which feel neither earned or necessary. There is also a bizarre music queue over the film’s closing credits and a musical score by Matthew Herbert which never seems to connect with the story being told on screen and only serves to distract instead of enhancing the story being told. Luckily, there are a number of strong elements which help to overcome such distractions, leaving “Disobedience” as a hopeful and beautiful film.
The power of choice and its existence in our own lives is a vital one. “Disobedience” explores what can happen when the choice of how you want to live your own life is taken away from us. Ronit, Esti, and Dovid were all born in the same community with the same teachings but each made a different choice in how to live their lives. Sebastián Lelio’s new film brings them all together at a crossroads in their own lives and the result is a powerfully acted drama with questions and themes which will resonate deeply, regardless of sexual orientation or religious beliefs.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Three fantastic central performances from Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams & Alessandro Nivola. Sebastián Lelio navigates through the drama and complexity of the characters expertly well.
THE BAD – Forced contrivances within the screenplay and odd music queues.