Disobedience carries an uncanny sense of depth and weight. The film unfolds with a singular type of cool, quiet confidence. This is what a Sebastián Lelio film feels like: a powerful study of strong women with striking specificity. That is what made his previous films, Gloria (2013) and A Fantastic Woman (2017), such great pictures. This one’s about a lesbian relationship inside an Orthodox Jewish community in London. Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) has stayed away for years, exiled in New York, where her otherness is accepted in her lifestyle as an artistic photographer. Then her Rabbi father passes, and she’s brought back into the fold, not only of the community that did not accept her but of the one woman who did, who now happens to be married to the man set to replace Ronit’s father in the church.
A tragic love story unfolds. Esti (Rachel McAdams) is obviously taken not only by her husband but her faith. She is married to a lifestyle that never properly fit. She has given everything to something she was born into and did not choose. And then here is Ronite. Who she was born to love and has since childhood and has also never chosen. These are the facts of her life and the sets of logic this film turns on.
The feeling is solemnity. Emotions linger, always broiling at the surface, yet always repressed. This is about a crisis of faith. It shoulders that weight considerably: we see the breaking of enforced symbols – the installed patriarchy stuttering against the threat of the woman they’ve made an outsider.
Central to any appeal is the amazing chemistry of its cast. This is as steamy as gay cinema gets: Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams burn bright and hot while Alessandro Nivola turns in a performance of conviction as Dovid, Esti’s husband, now on the outside. They are a perfect trio, a rounded complement to one another who allow each to outperform their roles.
There is only one concession allowed – with everything that happens to shake up this relationship: the film does not especially arrive at any significant destination. I have not read Naomi Alderman’s book it’s adapted from and cannot say if that is also true for the original story. The movie has enough confidence that I will suspect it is close and true to the material because it has the narrative strength of a novel at its center.
Disobedience is a great romance. We’re lucky to have Lelio, who has turned in great enough work in other languages, being given big English pictures. This is a piece of momentum. Despite the ambiguity, there is a good and weighty character story here. There are only good things to come from this superb Latin American director.