Director Sebastian Lelio has developed a reputation as an arthouse director. To you, this means there’s a good chance you’ve not seen his films. They’re not blockbuster releases. They’re not precisely mainstream. They’re not really under appreciated, either. At the heart of this reputation is an appreciation for quality filmmaking and storytelling that’s unapologetic in its presentation, and, above all, is of high quality.
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Release Date: April 27, 2018
By pulling in Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz to star in Disobedience, Lelio has created his next best shot for name recognition and audience that’s as widespread as it deserves to be. These are bankable stars with pull and awards gravitas to their names. Never before have I seen either in as remarkably complete a setting as in Disobedience. This new-age tale of forbidden love draws remarkable strength from its director, its script, its stars (including Alessandro Nivola) and its score. In fact, the direction, acting and powerful score act as a sort of triumvirate that wrests control of Hollywood from the formulaic and redistribute it to the deserving.
Weisz portrays Ronit Krishna, a New York photographer who receives a phone call informing her that her father has died. Ronit returns to London to honor her father, a highly respected Rabi and pillar of the Orthodox Jewish community. When Ronit returns to London, she finds her father’s apprentice and pseudo-adopted son (and Ronit’s friend from childhood) Rabbi Dovid Kuperman.
Dovid has, since Ronit abandoned her family and community and moved to New York, married Ronit’s former lover, Esti. Thus is a love triangle, albeit a less conventional one, born to the unique setting. Great detail seems to have been taken towards portraying the community with great accuracy, including its lack of tolerance for love between women. It’s done with unerring precision, and yet without a judgment of its own. It’s presented as fact, and the reality the characters find themselves in.
Subtle appreciation for human emotions, impulsiveness, brash action, disregard for consequences and the realities of the pursuit of passion make this a powerful narrative that keeps you entranced for its duration. In no part is this owing to two beautiful women pursuing a vision of love onscreen. While teenage-like stolen moments do lead to what’s as explicitly sexual a tryst as you’ll find (in some ways), its muted compared to the emotional implications building behind the confusion of three leads as they struggle to adapt to their evolving realities. The admission that attraction still exists. Acting upon this attraction. Denying this attraction. The communities response to their love. His response to what he can no longer deny. Their own individual acceptance of what’s happening to the three of them. An acceptance that nearly takes it from their hands.
Owing predominantly to the film’s trailer, and in no part to its source material, Naomi Alderman’s 2006 novel of the same name, there’s an air of tension and narrative dread that this is all leading to somewhere dark or sinister. For, often, when communities and lovers have their beliefs and their relationships thrust in their face as false, they react, violently. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Disobedience‘s title might apply to the formula I speak to and that certain characters prove more morally human than you might expect. I often don’t expect happy endings in dramas, arthouse or otherwise, but I found one here.