Sebastián Lelio/ UK Ireland USA/ 2017/ 114 mins
@Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 4 Jan 2019
Disobedience is a film of many themes: faith, religion (the two are not necessarily one and the same), tradition, sexuality, repression, freedom, grief, relationship, forgiveness, patriarchy, matriarchy and more. It’s a well-woven web and its twists and turns – if you manage to avoid any spoilers – are gripping. It’s also moving and funny, but not at the same time. But let’s get the criticism over with first. It’s shot in a documentary/handheld shaky style. So if your inner ear is sensitive, on the big screen it can be annoying and ever so slightly dizzying to track. The argument no doubt goes that it does add to the realism. As do the many moments of stillness, emphasising the stayed, dogmatic, yet entrancing world to which our protagonist has returned. The second significant criticism is the overly sensationalised porn-esque scenes. Depending on your sensibilities though, that could be seen as a plus point. However it is a pity as it detracts from an otherwise beautiful and thoughtful piece.
The story follows Ronit Krushka, (Rachel Weisz) as she makes the journey from her creative, bohemian life in New York as a photographer, to the stark contrast of her orthodox Jewish roots. Her father has just died and it becomes clear that her relationship with him, as well as many of those in her community, was – and continues to be – complex. To avoid the aforementioned spoilers (don’t read a synopsis beforehand), that’s as far as the plot goes here.
Weisz is thoroughly believable as the conflicted and mourning Krushka. Indeed, all of the main characters we meet are satisfying and layered, swerving the predictable pigeon holes of ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. No doubt this has much to do with Sebastián Lelio’s direction. The humour is gentle and considered, while the moving moments crash in with tear jerking crescendos. Playing opposite Rachel Weisz is Rachel Mcadams. Her casting seems Hollywood-influenced (big names equal big money) and less well-placed. But while many other actresses could have likely pulled off as good a performance, she still works in the role.
The nicest thing about Disobedience is that while it questions so many constructs of orthodox groups, it does so sensitively, honestly and from a hopeful perspective. Through all the challenging themes, this film is both uplifting and edifying.