Making real change is so much harder than any of us every really expect…
Disobedience marks the English language debut from director Sebastián Lelio who gives us an intense but occasionally disconnected drama that has some powerhouse performances but feels one notch away from being truly emotionally relevant.
This is the story of a woman (Rachel Weisz) as she returns to the community to settle the affairs and pay respect to her father, a Rabbi and religious leader in the community. A community that shunned her decades earlier for an attraction to a childhood friend (Rachel McAdams), and now back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality.
Told with an unexpectedly simple power, Disobedience makes for a strong English language debut from writer/director Sebastián Lelio with some incredibly strong performances from Weisz and particularly McAdams but it almost plays it a little too safe at times and had he shown a little of the narrative flare that we got from his brilliant A Fantastic Woman is could have easily been something for the awards season rather than quality counter programming.
As a storyteller, Lelio can read the room and get to the heart of the matter better then a lot out there. Using simple colouring and some stark framing we jump into the world of the Orthodox Jew and its inherent severities to understand why Weisz’s character left this world only now returning to settle the affairs of her father, who was the rabbi at the neighbourhood synagogue. He nails the emotional vibe to an absolute tee, because even though the outside of this world is compassionate and kind to her loss, she never really feels welcome in it as issues of faith and what a woman is supposed to do with her life is what ultimately drove her out in the first place. Lelio never lets any of the characters at ease, that’s why this all unfolds so damn well and when issues of faith and sexuality collide, especially in a religion as set in its traditions and ways as Orthodox Judaism then the emotional tension is palpable in the air and you could cut it with a knife.
That being said, the narrative really plays to the beats in the story that you’d expect. Granted there’s nothing wrong with that as this certainly is a movie that is more about the emotional ride then the ultimate destination that the narrative takes us to but had there been a little more visual flair and desire to break out of the norms then it could have been something particularly special. However to its credit by giving us the more emotionally realistic conclusion it allows for a genuine powerhouse performance from one of Canada’s own.
While she may not be top billing, Rachel McAdams is unequivocally the star of this film. As the repressed Esti Kuperman we get a clear glimpse into the conflict between faith and emotional happiness. Married to an up and coming member of the religious community (played by the always underrated Alessandro Nivola) she’s living happiness by someone else’s ideals, while in a personal hell of her own passions. It’s rare for McAdams to get a chance to tear into such a multi dimensional character like this as she bounces issues of faith off of her own sexuality which has been bursting to express itself for her entire life.
Rachel Weisz is fantastic on the other side of this equation as she struggles with her return to the community and how old emotions get stirred up in the quest to not only get closure with what has been in her past but to make peace with her future going forward with the spectre of the community that shunned her so long ago.
Ultimately, Disobedience is a hell of a powerful film and a great first step working inside more of a North American/Hollywood type structure which makes me very excited for what his next English language film will end up being.