Starring: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Running Time: 114 mins
Disobedience is a British film about a woman who returns to her Orthodox Jewish community, years after moving abroad when she was shunned for her relationship with a female friend of hers. However, upon her return, the two women’s feelings reignite, in the face of challenge and disapproval from the community.
This isn’t the easiest film to get to grips with, but with two powerhouse central performances, impactful directing and a deeply affecting and unsettling atmosphere, Disobedience is one of the most exciting and intense romantic dramas I’ve ever seen, with thrilling and equally devastating high stakes that burn in the underbelly of the film’s complex depiction of religion, love and everything in between.
Let’s start off with the most striking thing about this film, the fact that it’s just so heavy-going. Sure, lots of romantic dramas use some more grandiose stakes and injustices to keep the two leads apart, but there’s something about Disobedience that takes things a step further, and the consequences and fallout from the discovery of the two women’s illegitimate relationship make for incredibly tense viewing throughout.
Director Sebastián Lelio does a fantastic job at giving the film that pulsating and terrifying atmosphere, as while the film goes deep into the most basic and passionate elements of love, the prying eyes all around these two women are what make their relationship pretty much doomed from the start, with the added impact of the strict religious and moral codes that those in this Orthodox Jewish community follow.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with Orthodox Jewish practice (as I am), then this film may initially come across as a little inaccessible, given its immense focus and attention to rigid religious rituals and scripture. However, it’s a bold and ultimately brilliantly effective attention to detail from Lelio, as the significance of these traditional practices in the film play on your mind to such an extent that you are able to fully understand how massive a fallout there would be if these two women’s relationship were exposed to the community, furthered by a fascinating and eye-opening dive into their past before they parted ways years before.
As a result, this isn’t your average romantic drama, and while it is still an emotional love story, what really makes it work so well is that overbearing and incredibly intimidating atmosphere throughout, bringing intense high stakes to that central relationship that extened far beyond the two leading ladies.
Speaking of which, the performances here are just as excellent. Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams are brilliant in the two lead roles, with a stunning chemistry that brings their relationship to life in vivid fashion, while each puts in a fantastic individual performance with their fairly differing characters, Weisz playing a more loud-mouthed breakaway from the traditional community, and McAdams a sheltered but eternally frustrated housewife whose life is turned upside down with the unexpected return of Weisz.
There’s no doubt, then, that Disobedience is a riveting and enthralling romantic drama, but I will just say that, while it is definitely worth the watch, it’s not the world’s most accessible film. As well as what I mentioned about its significant focus on Orthodox Jewish religious practices and scripture, it’s a film that opens in a rather (although deliberately) vague manner.
The first act leaves you with a whole lot more questions than answers, and although it ultimately comes good later on in the film, it is a movie that requires a good bit of patience and concentration at the start, so that you understand all of the different players and various consequences for what happens later on.
In the end, though, I was very impressed by Disobedience. An intense, high-stakes and very exciting romantic drama with a terrifyingly intimidating atmosphere, it’s an enthralling watch throughout, furthered by sublime direction and two brilliant lead performances, which is why I’m giving it a 7.6.