By Jack Dignan
The exploration of sexuality in film is a topic that’s been moving further and further into the mainstream in recent years, and rightfully so. Recent hits such as Love Simon, Carol, Call Me By Your Name and Moonlight have allowed Hollywood to push this topic forward, green lighting more stories for bigger audiences, and Disobedience is the latest. This tender, emotional love story demands to be seen. It goes beyond what we’ve already seen from the aforementioned dramas, exploring the power of choice and free will in a unique and spellbinding way.
Rachel Weisz stars as Ronit, a woman whose Jewish community shunned her out many years ago, but after the death of her father, a popular rabbi, she returns. Here, she bunks with former best friends Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and Esti (Rachel McAdams), who have since gotten married. Throughout her stay, a lingering secret is brewing, stemmed from a past Ronit and Esti tried to hide. They are, much to the disappointed of their community, in love. And through their lust for one another, they explore the limits of their faith and sexuality.
It’s a distinctly human portrait of personal freedom. The screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida) and director Sebstián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman), based on the book by Naomi Alderman, slowly delves into rich, complex themes that are explored by our main characters. They each have their own ideology, one that may neglect another’s, and it’s this clash of ideas and strong mix of opinions that crafts such a beautiful, heartbreaking love story. It goes beyond genre conventions, even if it does feel as though it’s occasionally building towards them.
But the core of the film derives from the two lead actors, Weisz and McAdams. Their dynamic is natural and distinct, and both leading ladies give an absolutely flooring performance. McAdams’ character takes her time in expressing her true thoughts, often shunned and silenced by the people around her, whereas Weisz is a woman who speaks her mind right from the get go, yet their relationship flows in a real, sentimental way. Both performances are outstanding. Even Nivola is fantastic, especially in a speech he gives towards the film’s climax, although some of his more intense, personal bursts of anger do feel a little forced.
Writer-director Sebastián Lelio is at the top of his game his year. Between this and the recent Oscar win for A Fantastic Woman, the Chile director has never been better. His latest film is a powerful triumph of human emotions, one that’s expertly crafted and articulately designed. There are shots in here that are all-timers, and an ending that absolutely takes this film home. Certain elements do feel a little stretched, but by the time the credits role, you don’t really seem to mind. The impact of the film is far too important.
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