Sebastian Lelio’s lastest feature looks at what happens when your sexuality and religious beliefs don’t align.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
When Ronit (Rachel Weisz) receives word that her father has passed, she returns to the Orthodox Jewish community from which she was shunned as a child. While paying respects to her father, a revered rabbi of the community, Ronit comes to learn that her former childhood friend and lover Esti (Rachel McAdams) has married her cousin Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). Ronit and Esti soon rekindle their old romance, leaving Esti and Ronit both questioning their faith and the paths their individual lives have taken.
Once again, director Sebastián Lelio explores people living on the outskirts of their community and struggling with their identity in the world. Similar to Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman (2017), which explored a transgender woman coming to grips with the death of her boyfriend, Disobedience is a close inspection of sexuality that is deemed to have no place in organised religious communities.
Lelio has managed to capture the bitterness that exists between old lovers, the suffocating presence of family and religion, and the testing of faith in a way that doesn’t prescribe right or wrong, but instead asks why things have to be this way. It explores the sense of duty that people have, and the depths that some feel this duty to the point that they can’t be themselves without fear of disappointment and banishment.
Bringing this story to life is a cast of outstanding calibre. Weisz plays the disenchanted Ronit with excellence as the character deals with the loss of her father and the unforgiveable nature of the Orthodox community. Nivola too is brilliant as Dovid, a man who has been shown the kinder side of the Orthodox community and struggles to understand Ronit and Esti’s defiance of “what is right.” Nivola has the ability to be silent, but speak volumes all at the same time, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this role as perfectly as he does.
Finally, McAdams as Esti is the stand out for me. Her haunting portrayal of a woman who has to make a choice between her faith and her sexuality is a memorable and gripping performance. Frequently underused as an actress, McAdams has been given the opportunity here to really act, and for me, she doesn’t disappoint. Her portrayal of Esti is unexpected, but at the same time, what you’d expect from the character. She is quiet as the dutiful wife, and rarely speaks out of line, but there’s a quiet determination in her eyes that fuels her actions throughout the film.
For the most part, the film is intimate and poignant, however, there are a couple of moments that could have been executed better. For one, the sex scene between Esti and Ronit is overdone and put together in a way that doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the film. It fails to express the release of sexual tension between Esti and Ronit, which has been steadily building since Ronit’s arrival. Instead, it comes across like a cheap lesbian porno.
I’d still recommend the film, however. While the themes of love and religion aren’t anything new, Lelio uniquely tells a familiar story in an unfamiliar setting. It’s a film that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.
Disobedience is available in Australian cinemas from June 14
Image courtesy of Roadshow Films