Cinema Review: Disobedience

It’s heartening to see that there is still a place in cinema for the slow-burn, despite the mob’s expectation of a thrill every five minutes. A relief, too, to know that a subject that was once taboo – lesbian love – can be treated with compassion and insight, as it has been here by Chilean director Sebastián Lelio. Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns to London from New York following the death of her father, the prominent rabbi in a neighbourhood of Orthodox Jews. We learn immediately that it was Ronit’s intimate connection with Esti (Rachel McAdams) that led to her estrangement from the community. Upon her arrival, she discovers that Esti is now married to Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), who is deemed to be the natural successor to take on the role left by Ronit’s father. In a wintery London, the two women are again drawn to each other, but Esti is hamstrung by her obligations as Dovid’s wife – I never knew that strictly Orthodox Jews have sex on the Sabbath, or that their women wear wigs when in public (despite my countless trips up and down Bondi Road). Otherwise cowed by custom, Esti is encouraged to follow her natural instincts by the unapologetic Ronit, whose relationship with those she has left behind ranges from tense to downright abrasive. Caught in the middle is Dovid, who is bewildered by the prospect of everything that he so devoutly believes in might crumble to dust. The drama is sustained by beautiful performances from the three leads – I expected as much from McAdams and Weisz, but Nivola, for his subtlety and depth of feeling, was a revelation. And not shirking the issue at hand, neither actress is a shrinking violet in an extended sex scene that is wildly erotic without being in the least pornographic. We are all, to a greater or lesser degree, constricted by the manners and mores of the society in which we move. Self-liberation usually comes at a cost to others, but it is all we can hope for. A wonderful movie.

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