REVIEW: Disobedience (2017)

Cast: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola

Director: Sebastian Lelio

Synopsis: After her father’s death, a woman (Weisz) returns to her Orthodox Jewish community that she once fled to live the life she wanted. She rekindles a passion with her female childhood friend and together they explore their sexuality and what it really means to be free.

Review: Disobedience makes an impressive attempt to show life in an Orthodox Jewish community. It shows the effect strong faith can have on people who are devout about their beliefs but cannot deny themselves their true feelings.

The film captures the heart of the Orthodox Jewish community through keeping the audience predominantly engaged in that world. It successfully achieves this by rarely showing glimpses of non-Orthodox Jewish environments and people.

What made this film interesting was the setup we are given with the main female characters: Ronit (Weisz) and Esti (McAdams). We are led to believe that Ronit is a strong woman, while Esti is a timid wife.

The beginning asks us to believe that Ronit left her home within the Jewish community for a New York life where she could live as she wished. However, as the film progresses, we realise she is perhaps the most lost and least free of all.

The information we are drip-fed throughout the film means that the audience begins to realise Esti is a vigorous character, someone who has always known exactly what she wants and is not the ‘confused’ wife we first thought.

The path this film takes differs from ones which have previously portrayed a similar theme. It does not make Ronit a traditional ‘temptress’, but in fact makes Esti take control of her already natural instincts to seek out what she truly desires of her own accord.

You can’t review Disobedience and not discuss the ‘celebrated’ sex scene between Esti and Ronit. This feels natural for the characters and allows for both their emotional and physical release. Whilst the scene has been praised for being played out almost fully clothed, for me this detracted from the intimacy.

At one point during this scene, Ronit spits into Esti’s mouth – in my opinion, this felt symbolic of male ejaculation which, made me distance myself from the scene.

The brilliant acting came from not only the two female leads but Nivola as well. The sombre cinematography captured a drab north London, reflecting the mood of not only the community after the death of Ronit’s father, but of Esti’s feelings towards her life.

This was director Lelio’s third film focusing on a ‘heroine’ who finds herself outlawed and looking for acceptance. The film showed progressive female characters – proven by Esti always knowing she was a lesbian and eventually asking her husband to let her go. There is a sense of a change in the modern-day Orthodox life shown by her husband, Dovid accepting the reality of Esti and Ronit. However, this is where some elements of the film feel a little romanticised. Would a firm Orthodox Jew relinquish his beliefs, if only momentarily, for closeness that is specifically forbidden?

There are many aspects to admire about Disobedience and it’s definitely worth a watch. Overall, 7/10.

Written by Rebecca Perkin

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