A forbidden love affair between two women from an Orthodox Jewish community in north-west London is a the centre of Sebastian (A Fantastic Woman) Lelio’s claustraphobic new film Disobedience (released nationwide on November 30), based on Naomi Alderman’s 2006 novel.
Learning that her estranged rabbi father has collapsed and died while delivering a sermon in his beloved Hendon Synagogue, Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns from Manhattan to the enclave she left several years earlier to pursue a career in Photography. She arrives unexpectedly at the home of her childhood friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), to a welcome from her uncle Mashe (Allan Corduner) and the other stern-faced mourners in attendance that’s anything but warm. However, there’s at least one person who seems happy to see her, Dovid’s wife Esti (Rachel McAdams), an old friend with whom Ronit once had an illicit affair and who has since embraced her position as an attentive and submissive spouse.
As preparations are made for her father’s funeral, Ronit and Esti, the two women united in grief, realise that the love they once had burns as strongly as ever – a revelation that not only imperils Esti’s position as wife and local schoolteacher, but also Dovid’s future as the rabbi’s obvious successor. Ronit, meanwhile, is shaken to discover that her father not only cut her out of his will but also disowned her. The stage is set for an unavoidable collision between passion and tradition.
This is a film that asks searching questions about religious transgression and individuality and remains non-judgemental. Yet I felt as a love story although it transcends the cultural specificity of its setting and certainly looks authentic, lacks warmth and failed to move me. This is because I found the two female protagonists self-centred and hard to empathise with despite good performances from Weisz and McAdams. The result is that I didn’t care about their fate. Furthermore, the pace is slow and the film overall at almost two hours seems overlong and would have benefitted from some judicious pruning.
A real disappointment.
Disobedience is in cinemas now.Last modified: April 7, 2021