Disobedience (2018)

Review #1,584

Director:  Sebastian Lelio
Cast:  Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola
Plot:  A woman returns to the community that shunned her for her attraction to a childhood friend.  Once back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality.

Genre:  Drama / Romance
Awards:  Official Selection (Toronto)
Runtime:  114 mins
Rating:  R21 (passed clean) for some strong sexuality
Distributor:  Sony Pictures

One of two Sebastian Lelio films to open within a week of each other in Singapore—the other being the Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman (2017)—Disobedience is the less flamboyant of the two LGBT titles, a quiet and nuanced portrayal of two women who rekindle their lesbian relationship after being apart for many, many years.  Starring prominent actresses Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, the film sees both give good turns as Ronit and Esti, who grew up together in a conservative Orthodox Jewish community, but because their illicit romance was strongly disapproved, the free-spirited Ronit left for the States whilst Esti married a man of the same faith in the ensuing years.

In the prologue, we see a priest collapse while giving a monologue, which sets forth the plot that brings Ronit back to the family that shunned her.  Her visit is unexpected, but not surprising as we learn early on that the priest is her estranged father.  Weisz and McAdams share a chemistry that lights up the screen, and the way that they glance at each other suggests a simmering intimacy and longing for one another.  The intimate moments that they share with together do not disappoint, balancing the desire to connect emotionally with erotically-charged sex.

Shot with bleak colours in London, Disobedience has an ethereal quality, due largely to the unobtrusive original score.  However, a scene with Ronit and Esti together accompanied by a late ‘80s oldie, “Lovesong”, performed by The Cure as it plays over a radio, feels tonally at odds with the general mood of the film.  The use of this song again for the end credits doesn’t do the film any favour, once again creating a jarring tonal change that diminishes the picture’s impact.  Lelio’s handling of tone certainly still needs working on.

The narrative centers on the intersection of desire, freedom and faith, and insofar as Weisz and McAdams’ characters are engaging, the film feels a tad on the long-winded side.  The denouement, in particular, seems like it has gone on a few scenes too long.  While Disobedience benefits from the leisurely pace where its quiet dramatic power slowly builds, the storytelling is not tight enough, and I wished that it had been a more impactful and conscientious work.

Verdict:  A tad on the long-winded side, but with good turns by Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, this lesbian drama portrays the intersection of desire, freedom and faith with nuance and quiet power.




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