STARS: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola
DIRECTOR: Sebastian Lelio
Pay close attention to the opening monologue in Disobedience, because the theme of the film is encapsulated there. Rav Krushka, the elderly spiritual leader of an orthodox Jewish congregation in London, is pouring it all out--as if these would be the final words he would ever speak. Immediately afterwards, he croaks. This sets up the return of his estranged daughter, Ronit (Rachel Weisz), a New York photographer who was exiled from the community due to her youthful penchant for her own gender--in particular her childhood friend, Esti (Rachel McAdams). Ronit is not welcomed back with open arms into the closed--and closed-minded--community, but she is invited to stay with Esti and their mutual school days chum, Rabbi David Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), who is now Esti's husband.
It doesn't take long before the repressed passions between Ronit and Esti are rekindled, leading them to consummate their love for each other on the sly, which will set up the inevitable conflict for Esti to choose between desire and duty--whether to flee with Ronit to New York or stay and be the good wife for her husband and support him in his ambition to take over the leadership position that Ronit's father has vacated.
What to do. What to do.
Disobedience is about life in a closed conservative religious community, and it feels as real and authentic as you can get, right down to some great singing in Hebrew that even someone like me can appreciate. It's also about lesbian sex, as there's a really hot lovemaking scene between Weisz and McAdams. Oh wait a minute...it's not between the actors, it's between their characters--Ronit and Esti. Because in real life these two have male partners, and so of course they're just acting. Decide for yourself on that one.
But the central theme of the movie is what lies at the heart of existentialism, and it harkens back to Rav Krushka's monologue at the beginning of the film: Free will. The freedom to choose. The main tenet of existentialist philosophy is that with freedom comes responsibility. This plays out beautifully in Disobedience, as Esti has a lot more to consider in making her decision than just her own happiness. It all leads to a climactic scene (no, not that one) that's as touching as any I have seen on film. And while the first half hour or so of Disobedience is as slow as the molasses in January, the story will draw you in with three remarkable turns from Weisz, McAdams, and Nivola, and you'll be hooked in short order.
For me to reveal more than that just wouldn't be kosher.
People who read our joint reviews tell me they much prefer it when our opinions are diametrically opposed. Well, get ready, folks! Maybe it's because I didn't like studying existentialism in college. Or I have an automatic mad-on for stultifying religious communities. But Disobedience left me disappointed and disgruntled.
The film took forever to get started, as director Sebastian Lelio (who also directed A Fantastic Woman) wanted us to understand every little nuance of the plot. I'm a great believer in bookends, i.e. starting and ending a film with the same visual. Disobedience followed this cinematic premise to the letter. But as a romantic (and a fan of Hollywood schmaltz), I believe love should triumph over anything else. Especially when the other choice is so depressing.
When Casablanca first came out, the producers aired two separate endings: one where Bogart and Bergman stayed together; the other where war and duty triumphed. (I didn't like that ending either!)
The acting is superb and that sex scene Tim refers to is tastefully done albeit highly erotic. For you trivia buffs, it might interest you to know that Rachel Weisz (the wife of Daniel Craig aka "007") is having her first child at age 48. Obviously, she's a rebel in real life, too!
Too much thinking gives me a headache. I like my movies to be entertaining. They can be violent. Or scary. Or even sad. But when a philosophical concept drives the storyline it makes me break out in hives.