An elderly British orthodox rabbi is giving a sermon on freedom and choice–a message that hangs over the entire film–to his rapt audience when he suddenly keels over dead. The film then cuts to Manhattan, where a photographer, Ronit (Rachel Weisz, Oz the Great and Powerful) is shooting an old man covered in tattoos. Hearing the news of her estranged father’s death, Ronit returns to North London to pay her respects and make peace with her past.
Ronit left years before, after her father discovered the nature of her relationship with Esti (Rachel McAdams, The Notebook) and sought to correct the situation as best he knew how. Ronit ran away to New York, and was excommunicated from the community she grew up in. She wasn’t even mentioned in her dad’s obituary. While that is undoubtedly painful, Ronit is unprepared to run into Esti. As it turns out, not only has she remained in the Orthodox fold, but she has married Ronit’s childhood friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), the rabbi’s presumptive successor. The final phase of Esti’s reform had been her marriage to Dovid. Although lesbian, she repressed her true sexuality and obliged her husband every Friday. Ronit’s return makes denying her true sexuality impossible.
Director Sebastian Lelio, who’s last feature was the Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman and co-screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz never demonize the Orthodox community, instead keeping the focus on the two women and their personal struggle. Like any conservative religion, Orthodox Judaism has its customs and traditions and those who don’t adhere to them. While they gain their freedom, the price is high. They lose their family, community, and the only identity they’ve ever known. Though Ronit and Esti made very different choices in their lives, seeing each other again forces them to deal with lingering feelings of regret and guilt over the shame to their community, while trying to ignore reignited feelings towards each other.
The film’s photography creates the sense of confinement that defines the community. Streets and doorways seem unusually narrow, people must walk around each other at all times. How can rules be broken when privacy is nearly impossible?
Rachel Weisz gives a convincing performance in which she lays bare Ronit’s deepest emotions through her expressions and the most minute gestures. While Rachel McAdams isn’t as intense and exacting as Weisz, given Esti’s ongoing conflict regarding her own sexuality, her less polished approach to the character seems appropriate. Alessandro Nivola’s Dovid is a sweet man, forced to question everything he believes about his religion, life, and love when confronted with the reality of Ronit and Esti’s relationship. There are no easy answers here, and Disobedience doesn’t pretend to provide any.
Presented in the 239:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer has a deliberately bleak palette, consisting of light browns and dark grays in the background, with occasional flashes of primary colors. There’s some washed out black levels in a dinner scene, but overall, the transfer provides detail and clarity. Saturation provides the right mood and allows those splashes of color to come through.The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack is fine for what is a dialogue heavy film, with long stretches of silence. Occasionally when the score kicks in, there’s some brief surround activity, but this isn’t a movie that’s going to put your sound system to the test.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
There are no real extras, though a Digital HD Copy of the film is included.
Movie title: Disobedience (2017)
Director(s): Sebastián Lelio
Actor(s): Rachel Weisz , Rachel McAdams , Alessandro Nivola , Anton Lesser , Bernice Stegers , Allan Corduner
Genre: Drama, Romance