While “Disobedience” asks the same kind of questions that many romantic dramas have asked. Can love survive over years? Is any love forbidden? Does love change everything? The new Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams film, simply asks them in a different way.
Based on the novel by Naomi Alderman, “Disobedience” is the story of two women at odds with their upbringing. Rachel Weisz is Ronit, a New York based photographer, notified of her rabbi father’s (Anton Lesser) death. Travelling to London and the Orthodox Jewish area of her birth, she is met by derision by her former community. Most shun her, seeing her abandonment of their way of life as
rejection of their traditions. Everyone, that is, except childhood friends Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), who will soon take over as rabbi, and his wife Esti (Rachel McAdams). As Ronit settles her father’s estate the reason for her self-imposed exile becomes clear as she and Esti revive their teenage romance.
Chilean director Sebastian Lelio sets the stage, expertly creating the insular world of the British Orthodox Jewish enclave. Drawing us into a world ruled by cultural and spiritual customs he provides the background we need to contextualize the patriarchal world Ronit re-enters. That rich portrait gives Weisz and McAdams a canvas on which to paint two very different but very effective performances.
Both are strong-willed people who have spent years suppressing their feelings. Weisz’s Ronit straddles two worlds, her new life in America versus her old life in Britain, and with that comes introspection. Revisiting her past brings up a wellspring of emotions not just for Esti but for the life she left behind. Weisz embodies that push and pull with an internal performance that speaks volumes.
McAdams approaches Esti as a person frustrated with, but not trapped in, her ordered life. Ronit offers a kind of freedom and connection she rarely feels. It’s tremendous work, overlapping Esti’s devotedness with her natural inclinations.
“Disobedience” made the festival rounds where it was noted for its sex scenes but it is so much more than that. It’s a slow-burning character-driven study of passion that avoids judging its characters or the traditions it depicts.