- Emma Simmonds
- 26 November 2018
Forbidden love and religious restrictions are at the heart of a well-acted drama starring Rachel Weisz
Chilean director Sebastián Lelio's latest tale of female liberation – following A Fantastic Woman and Gloria – is a tonally muted portrait of a cloistered community, based on the 2006 novel by Naomi Alderman. After the flamboyance that preceded it, Lelio's first English-language film is a comparatively dour affair but, thanks to the subtle and striking work of its leads, it remains largely engaging as the black-sheep-returns narrative unfolds.
Ronit (Rachel Weisz) is the only child of giant of the Orthodox Jewish faith Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser). Called back to her Hendon home upon his death, the smothering air of disapproval that greets and cows her is indicative of a past scandal. At first this New York-based photographer appears chastened when faced with forgotten rituals, but she prickles at questions of marriage and children and it's not long before she's butting heads. As she tentatively reconnects with family and friends, Ronit is startled to find her teenage lover Esti (Rachel McAdams) living a stifled life as wife to Rav's protégé Dovid (Alessandro Nivola).
Danny Cohen's claustrophobic cinematography emphasises the challenge of living within a close-knit, watchful and judgemental community, while the washed-out palette reflects Ronit's cool reception, the community's pious existence and the chill of grief. A quirk of its North London location means that freedom from surveillance is mere minutes away – illustrated when Ronit and Esti hop on a tube for a passionate rendezvous.
Weisz, McAdams and Nivola beautifully capture the complexity and contradictions of their characters: the way Ronit's love for her father coexists alongside her distaste for his rigid convictions; the tragic circumstances of Esti, whose life of denial has left her cripplingly meek; and the struggles of Dovid, a good man trying to reconcile the teachings of his faith with the emotional wellbeing of his wife.
While Disobedience lacks overt power, a significant amount of care and attention has clearly gone into the production; there are pleasures in the minor details and something appealingly intimate and heartrendingly real about its low-key approach. However, the film feels less sure-footed as it wears on, culminating in an ending that's undoubtedly cathartic but also a little clumsy.
General release from Fri 30 Nov.