"represents love's forbidden fruit, a passion suppressed and the strive towards a newfound freedom"
Chilean director, Sebastian Lelio (A Fantastic Woman) builds a powerful portrait of a secret, struggling relationship in his English-language debut, Disobedience based on the novel by the same name.
Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz, who also produced the film) is a non-practicing Orthodox Jew who dismisses her religious upbringing to live the life of a Photographer in New York.
The film opens with a sultry, eerie sax, then dramatically switches to the backdrop of a synagogue. At which point we are introduced to Ronit’s (Rachel Weisz) father, a Rabbi, uttering the words, "The quality that distinguishes human beings from both angels and beasts is our free will — “the power to disobey,” just before he stumbles to the floor.
Reluctant as Ronit is, she flies back to London in order to pay her respects. On her arrival she is met by rabbi Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola, You Were Never Really Here) and wife, Esti (Rachel McAdams, Spotlight). Dovid and Esti were once childhood friends of Ronit's. Esti, however, had been Ronit's lover.
The desire that's still held between the women sees them going to a hotel room, where an erotic scene plays out; whilst Ronit's spitting into the mouth of Esti has set quite a few tongues wagging, the spittle, or nudity is not what's important here, it's the electrifying exchange.
Weisz provides without a doubt, a standout performance, as deep scars run deep, and are laid bare, as she contemplates why she must lead two separate lives, one which embraces freedom, and the ease within her, and another where previous heartaches and hardship persistently haunt her.
Weisz and McAdams are extraordinary. The characters’ emotions are quite often underscored, as in the scene where Ronit and Esti hum along to The Cure's “Lovesong,” yet at the heart we recognise a Shakespearean tragedy.
May you live a long life,” are the words often in this insular community. But for Esti and Ronit, it’s the ultimate question of how they should lead the rest of their lives.
Most of the people from the community aren't pleased to see her, and when Ronit picks up one of their newspapers she reads a death announcement which reads her father died “childless.” And Nivolo, the pious husband is caught between flesh and the spirit, whilst searching for answers he is unable to find in the Torah.
Lelia has a distinct touch, and whatever he lays his hands on, it shows in the performances he brings out, the emphasis being to place it on the composition and tone. The result, all the elements of the film ooze an emotive intelligence, which at no point slips.
The script adapted by Lelio and co-writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz treats each central character as neither hero nor villain. No-one who sees this film will resort to shutting themselves down. Why would they, when what you discover is that an awful lot of ourself can be discovered in the surrender. Disobedience represents love's forbidden fruit, a passion suppressed and the strive towards a newfound freedom.