REVIEW: Disobedience is an exquisite drama that piercingly tests the boundaries of religious faith and forbidden romance
Taboo-laced love stories no doubt have their stamp of approval when covering its inherent titillating territory of forbidden affection. In Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio's lush, steamy, and transfixing romancer Disobedience, the familiar story of the prodigal daughter returning home amid past and present transgressions is an exquisite drama that piercingly tests the boundaries of religious faith and forbidden romance. Daringly provocative and hypnotic, Disobedience is undoubtedly spell-binding in its secretive shell of seduction, deception, and moral emptiness.
Lelio, whose previous Academy Award-winning best foreign film in the off-kilter transgender romance-drama A Fantastic Woman was equally compelling, explores the depths of faith-based bonds within the realm of committed religion and romance. Based on the Naomi Alderman novel, co-writer/director Lelio and co-writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz does wonder with the film's screenplay in conveying the solid entanglements that tap into the psychological and emotional fibers pertaining to the Jewish Orthodox protocol and the lingering love that finally reunites two unfulfilled women after so many years. Interestingly, Disobedience marks Lelio's entry into helming his first English-language film and the resourceful South American movie-maker does not miss a beat effectively probing the complicated mindsets of his plagued protagonists.
New York-based photographer Ronit Krushka (Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz) receives word that her rabbi father has died. The backstory is that Ronit had been estranged from her now-deceased father for many years. Furthermore, it is revealed that she had also been shunned from her strict Orthodox Jewish community back in North London due to her immense attraction to her childhood friend Esti (Rachel McAdams). Aimlessly catering to her successful photography career while drifting in isolation via watering holes and random sexual hook-ups, Ronit makes the choice to travel back to the aforementioned Orthodox Jewish community that exiled her from their inner circle.
It appears that many of the close associates of the beloved late rabbi are shocked to see Ronit's return to pay her respects to the religious father most felt that she shamed with her scandalous past. Interestingly, Ronit's surprise arrival included touching bases again with her true love Esti Kuperman who is now married to Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), a rabbi protege of her belated father. However, the marriage between Esti (now a teacher at an all-girls Jewish school) and Dovid now feels strained because the ignited sparks between the women have awakened to the point of no return. Clearly, Ronit and Esti cannot resist one another as the love and lust overtake them both. Whether snuggling in a back alley off the main street or demonstrating orchestrated sexual contact in a hotel room it is evident that the attraction between the two women is too overpowering for either of them to control.
Perhaps the Kuperman marriage showed signs of frailty before the returning of the maligned Ronit Krushka? In any event, Esti does confront Dovid about her charged feelings for Ronit, therefore causing a problematic three-way love triangle complex in the ambivalence of affections, loyalty, co-dependence, and spirituality. Thrown into the equation besides Ronit's intimate hold on Esti's heart is the revelation of Esti's pregnancy as well. Now, what will become of the Kupermans as a family with Ronit standing on the sidelines? Plus, with the passing of Dovid's father adding to the devastation of his wounded heart what will Esti do in terms of her splitting love between Dovid and Ronit? What decisions and directions should this conflicted trio take?
Disobedience quietly shocks as it attempts to answer its intended themes of God's sacred word to the act of obedience or the lack of it. Sensually applied to the nuanced storytelling, Lelio paints an amorous landscape so defining in its quest for two soul-searching women stuck in an indescribable malaise. Both Weisz and McAdams--actresses that are always on top of their game--bring vulnerability and vitality to their risque roles as tight-knit love partners rediscovering the magic of their delayed togetherness. Nivola is impressive as the tolerant religious leader torn apart by the infidelity of his pained wife but supportive of her angst-ridden affair with their mutual friend. Profoundly atmospheric and oddly laced with constructive sentimentality, Disobedience is pointedly erotic in its messaging of the rigors of religious reflection and romantic rawness joined at the hedonistic hip.