After premiering at Toronto in 2017, it has taken a long time for Disobedience to get a UK release. But after a brief cinematic run towards the end of 2018, it is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and video on demand. It was definitely worth the wait. Featuring three stunning central performances, this elegant and deliberately paced drama from Sebastián Lelio – director of the Academy Award winning A Fantastic Woman – expertly navigates themes of sexuality, spirituality, freedom, and oppression, within the suffocating confines of religious orthodoxy.
The film takes place in the Orthodox Jewish community of North London. When the spiritual leader of the community dies suddenly, his only daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz), a New York based photographer, is summoned home. She has essentially been living in exile, having chosen a life of bohemian freedom away from the stifling strictness of her father’s world.
Once back in London, there are many ceremonies and rituals that must be observed. Ronit struggles to fit back into the community, as she doesn’t act and behave as expected. One of her father’s pupils, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), a childhood friend invites Ronit to stay with him and his wife Esti (Rachel McAdams). Hinted through furtive glances and expressions, we gradually learn that the reason for Ronit’s banishment was the sexual relationship between her and Esti when they were younger.
Ronit’s sexuality is never explicitly stated, however we see her with both men and women throughout the film. Esti however, confesses to Ronit after their passionate and emotional reunion that she is only attracted to women. She has been trapped by the traditions, expectations, and duties of the religion she was born into. Rachel McAdams conveys such intense loneliness in these scenes, she will break your heart in two.
The film is blessed by three superb central performances. Weisz, who also co-produced the film, delivers a beautiful turn, perfectly capturing Ronit’s conflicting desires of the glamorous life of freedom she chose, and the life she will never be accepted in due to her past transgressions. As the devout Dovid, Alessandro Nivola gives perhaps the finest performance of his career. An understated, yet brilliantly physical performance, of a man wracked with burdens.
Director Sebastián Lelio and co-writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz have done a fine job adapting Naomi Alderman’s novel of the same name. The character work is sublime. They feel real, with real desires and inner lives. Each of them is living with their own unique perspective on this complex love triangle.
Lelio compliments the excellent writing and acting, with a muted and oppressive visual style. Like the many layers of drab clothing and sheitel wigs that Esti must wear in order to appear “frum”, Lelio and his cinematographer Danny Cohen adopt a subdued and sombre palette, perfectly matching the anguish and claustrophobia experienced by the characters.
Disobedience tackles big themes and difficult subject matter with sincerity and nuance. It would have been easy to sensationalise the central relationship, and to caricature the Orthodox community as villains. Lelio however shows real restraint and balance, in this engaging and sympathetic portrayal of tangled lives, offering no easy answers.
The physical media release comes with a few special features. There are a couple of pieces from the press junket at the Tribeca Film Festival. The first is a fairly in-depth interview with the director. The second is a short interview with the three main cast members together. There’s a couple of interesting bits, but overall it’s quite awkward, as these group interviews invariably tend to be. There’s also a very short featurette called Streets of London, which briefly covers the making of the film and the world building required. Finally on the disc is the theatrical trailer.
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola Director: Sebastián Lelio Writer: Sebastián Lelio & Rebecca Lenkiewicz Released By: Curzon Artifical Eye Certificate: 15 Duration: 114 mins Release Date: 4th February 2019