After a Best Foriegn Language Film Oscar win for A Fantastic Woman, director Sebastián Lelio is all the rage. Thus, Santa Fe finally gets a look at his other 2017 film, Disobedience, the tale of a young Jewish woman named Ronit (Rachel Weisz) who returns to her strict Jewish community in London after the death of her father and years away. No one is thrilled to see Ronit, but when she reunites with her childhood friend Esti (Rachel McAdams), sparks fly and we get a clearer idea of why she left her life behind so easily.
Similarly to last year's excellent Menashe, it's fascinating to glimpse the inner-workings of insular Jewish communities, and Leilo handles the traditions and customs and strictures with care. Still, we definitely feel like outsiders looking in right alongside Ronit, and it's uncomfortable at best. Rightly so. Family members and friends consistently judge and admonish Ronit for her choices, but as the chemistry ramps up between her and Esti, a knee jerk true love defense starts to kick in. Further complicating things is Esti's husband Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), the next in line for the top rabbi position who senses something is going on with his wife.
Weisz feels lackadaisical as Ronit, constantly swallowing her pride and feelings but never truly embracing them before shirking them off as a fundamental differences between her and her people. We get a sense that she's upset, but it feels more like she's reciting words than embodying her character's unenviable position. McAdams on the other hand is a revelation, all at once cold out of self-preservation, melancholy out of loss and torn between her responsibilities to herself and to her husband and faith. Most scenes without her lag and we truly do empathize with her position, especially after one of the most intense sex scenes in modern film.
Still, we can't help but resent Ronit for showing up, kicking the hornet's nest and then fleeing. This could be because we come to feel protective of Esti, or it could be in how we project the aftermath of our own poor decisions onto the characters. Either way, it's all well and good to say things like "love conquers all," it's another thing entirely to live by that.
+McAdams is stellar
-Weisz is so-so
Directed by Lelio
With Weisz, McAdams and Nivola
Violet Crown, R, 114 min.
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