- Movie Rating -

Disobedience (2018)

| November 20, 2018

I suppose there exists in me a certain affection for stories about passion that aren’t afraid to be overstated.  I mean, why mince words?  Disobedience opens with such a moment, as the respected Rabbi Rav Krushka of an Orthodox Jewish congregation in London gives an effecting sermon about the tricky place that human beings occupy between the forces of their spirituality given to them by HaShem (or God) and the open spaces of free will – the right and the will to be disobedient.  At his last word he drops dead.  This movie gets no points for subtlety.

That kind of bold overstatement is crucial to Disobedience, a movie steeped in buried passion and deeply-kept secrets bubbling to the surface in the wake of a tragic event.  Not everything in this movie is said entirely in words, rather in the quiet looks and not-so-subtle body language.  This could easily have been a great silent film.

Word of the Rabbi’s death reaches his long-estranged daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz), a New York photographer who, long ago, exiled herself from her Jewish community into a life of self-destructive hedonism.  Given the news, she rushes back to a community not exactly willing to greet her with open arms, not great news.  Ronit is heartbroken to learn that her father’s will declares that he had no children.

Ronit’s exile has been so complete that she isn’t even aware that her childhood friends Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and Esti (Rachel McAdams) have gotten married.  Dovid, who is the heir to the rabbi’s position, invites Ronit to stay in their home, but he is completely unaware that she and Esti have . . . a past.  Occupying their home, the fuse is ignited and the passion of these two women – the sole reason for Ronit’s exile – flares up once again and inevitably throws everyone’s lives into bitter turmoil.

What is interesting about Disobedience is the way in which it seems to place the dialogue as a secondary priority.  The setting, of course, is a tightly-knit religious community in which rituals are strictly observed, so words cannot often be expressed out loud.  Gestures, looks and even clothing seem to speak more effectively than dialogue – a cigarette that is shared, a sheitel worn by married women to note duality and director Lelio’s use of light and shadow which alternates the symbols of moving in and out of the eye of God.

And, of course, sex.  Yes, there’s a lot of passion on display here, but it’s not written in the visual language of soft-core porn.  When Ronit and Esti have their first kiss, it feels like years of repression and distance finally unvalved – as if each has been thinking about it (or trying not to think about it) for years.  There is so much history between the two, both together and individually that their scenes of passion are always tinged with melancholy.  When Ronit and Esti finally have sex, it takes place away from the religious community in a brightly lit room.

What happens in the film’s third act is kind of surprising.  This is not one of those one-sided hack-strung dramas in which the church is seen as a hard-bound, unfeeling churlish institution.  Without giving too much away, the pillar of this community, largely represented by Dovid, looks upon the situation not as a hedonism but as an example of the frailty of the human heart, the defining nature of passion and the unbending notion that the heart wants what it wants.  What happens is the end will, and should, open many debates, but that’s part of the film’s challenging nature.  What are we to make of the decisions between Dovid, Esti and Ronit as the film draws to a close?  What does it say about the nature of religion, of love and of passion.  What is best in life.  When the story closes, we are left to decide for ourselves.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2018) View IMDB Filed in: Drama