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Movie Review: With ‘Disobedience,’ the Rachels Weisz and McAdams Seek Love in an Orthodox Place

CREDIT: Bleecker Street

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola

Director: Sebastián Lelio

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for Bodily Fluid Swapping

Release Date: April 27, 2018 (Limited)

It’s nice when a movie like Disobedience, which looks like it is on a one-way track to a depressing conclusion, actually manages to have a happy ending. Now, “happy ending” might be a bit of a stretch, as it does not wrap up with the most joyous of notes, but the main characters do have decent prospects for the future, thus managing a note of hope I was nowhere near expecting.

Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) is a photographer living in New York who returns to the insular Orthodox Jewish community in London where she grew up to attend the funeral of her rabbi father, a pillar of the community. While there, sparks re-emerge between her and Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams), a childhood friend and clearly much more. Disobedience then is a close relative to Brokeback Mountain, as it is a gay love story negotiated within an oppressively culturally conservative community, but whereas Brokeback’s arc is tragic, Disobedience manages to be about resolution and compromise.

While the Orthodox Judaism of this film is hardly open-minded to the prospect of a lesbian couple, there are other traditional ideas that manage to be more insidiously oppressive. It feels like a bigger scandal that a woman would choose to be childless or abandon her home than for her to fall in love with another woman. Thus, Ronit bears the brunt of the ostracization, whereas Esti, who has married a man and made a steady living as a schoolteacher, maintains cordiality and respect despite her orientation being something close to an open secret. Esti’s husband Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) knows the truth about her, and he embodies the idea implied by the community that if you are a woman and you have an affair with another woman, it will be more or less ignored so long as you get married and have sex once a week and at least try to have a baby. Disobedience is smart about recognizing that while romance and its attendant passions are important, there are other fundamentals to life that are worth focusing on.

This is a drab film, with characters endlessly dressed in black or other dark tones. Surely that is partly to due with mourning the loss of a loved one, but you get the sense that this is how this community always dresses. Perhaps they are taking a cue from the perpetually rainy weather of their hometown. Even the brunette Esti wears a wig of a darker shade. While these outfits strike me as painfully passionless, much of the community wear them well. Esti can make them work to a certain extent, while Ronit is clearly uncomfortable throughout. This is a story about whether the two of them can meet in the middle, and being surprisingly okay with it when they cannot quite get there.

Disobedience is Recommended If You Like: Brokeback Mountain, Doomed (But Not That Doomed) Romances, Portrayals of Orthodox Life

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Orthodoxies

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