Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Disobedience (2018) dir. Sebastián Lelio


A Passionate Rachel Weisz Performance Can’t Overcome Disobedience’s Melodrama

Fresh off his Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for A Fantastic Woman, Sebastián Lelio brings us his first English-language feature, Disobedience. The film stars Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams as former lovers facing prejudice and scorn from their Orthodox Jewish community in London. Unfortunately, their romance never reaches the soaring heights of A Fantastic Woman or Lelio’s 2013 film Gloria, and instead wallows in dark clothing, rainy weather, and slow contemplations. Despite some moments of levity, the film never escapes the sour tone and suffers for it.

When her rabbi father dies, Ronit Krushka (Weisz) must return to the Jewish Orthodox community that shunned her decades earlier. We aren’t given the details right away, but you can figure it out when Esti (McAdams) enters the picture and gives some not-so-subtle glances. Esti is now married to Ronit’s cousin Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), her father’s intended successor, but it’s clear she still has feelings for Ronit, and vice-versa.

The bulk of the movie alternates between scenes of Ronit defending her secular life to her former community, and scenes of Ronit and Esti exploring their passion for one another. The chemistry between Weisz and McAdams is lacking, and their gazes are not nearly as electric as the film would like us to believe. Additionally, McAdams’ English accent seems to come and go as it pleases.

When the film trudges past the hour mark, there is (*spoiler alert*) an almost reality-breaking sex scene that goes on for far longer than it needs to. The sequence is completely out of the step with the rest of the film, and makes it all the harder to get back to the quiet exploration of religion and gender roles that the film had been until then. It made me think about what I ask for in representation, and why it’s seemingly so hard for good films about lesbians to be made. I don’t think Lelio meant for this scene to come off as exploitative, but it seems so outside the realm of normal human behavior it’s hard to imagine what he MEANT to do here.

A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience cover similar ground, but with remarkably disparate results. Each feature a woman on a journey for acceptance and self-actualization, but only one employs an air of magical realism to enhance the story. Disobedience is not without its moments, but overall it’s a boring slog that wastes the leads’ time.

dir. Sebastián Lelio
114 min.

Now playing at Kendall Square Cinema

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