Pas­sion Week

DIS­OBE­DI­ENCE | Rachel Weisz and Rachel McA­dams are il­licit lovers in Se­bastián Le­lio’s fol­low‑up to A Fan­tas­tic Woman…

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Se­bastián Le­lio has had a busy 18 months. Af­ter shoot­ing three films back to back – A Fan­tas­tic Woman, Dis­obe­di­ence and a re­make of his own 2013 fea­ture Glo­ria – the Chilean writer/di­rec­tor capped it all by win­ning the Best For­eign Lan­guage Film Os­car. “I feel very lucky, be­cause I’m not in a post-Os­car void of anx­i­ety say­ing, ‘What am I go­ing to do now?’” Le­lio smiles. “Be­cause I had al­ready tran­si­tioned into English-lan­guage films.”

An adap­ta­tion of Naomi Al­der­man’s 2006 novel, Dis­obe­di­ence is a story of for­bid­den love be­tween two women in the Or­tho­dox Jewish com­mu­nity of Hen­don, north Lon­don. Rachel Weisz plays Ronit, a pho­tog­ra­pher shunned as a teen for her at­trac­tion to a fe­male friend. When Ronit’s es­tranged fa­ther dies she re­turns home, and rekin­dles a ro­mance with Rachel McA­dams’ Esti. “You have two pos­si­ble des­tinies for the same sit­u­a­tion,” Le­lio says. “One es­caped – Ronit – and by do­ing that, she lost her ori­gins. And the other one – Esti – stayed and lived a good life, but by do­ing that she lost her­self.”

Ad­mit­ting he was “crazy” to tackle such a hy­per-spe­cific sub­ject for his English de­but, Le­lio strived for au­then­tic­ity in his de­pic­tion of a world few truly know. At­tend­ing cer­e­monies and Shab­bat din­ners, and spend­ing a week in an Or­tho­dox ho­tel dur­ing the script­ing stage, there were as many as 12 con­sul­tants on set at any one time. “We be­came ob­sessed with try­ing to get the cul­tural tex­ture right, in or­der to later on for­get about it and con­cen­trate on the peo­ple, which is what makes a story uni­ver­sal.”

That hu­man drama is com­pli­cated by the fact Esti’s de­vout hus­band Dovid (Alessan­dro Nivola) is a re­spected Rabbi, and the favoured suc­ces­sor to Ronit’s fa­ther at the sy­n­a­gogue. “It was fas­ci­nat­ing to use that to in­crease the tem­per­a­ture of the con­flict that trin­ity was go­ing through,” ex­plains Le­lio, who nev­er­the­less felt it im­por­tant that the com­mu­nity weren’t painted as the vil­lains. “We were try­ing to avoid fall­ing into the trap of: ‘Oh, the Or­tho­dox are the bad guys. They’re throw­ing stones at les­bians.’ It’s more com­plex than that.”

Which brings us to the film’s much-dis­cussed sex scene. Le­lio placed great im­por­tance on a five-minute con­sum­ma­tion that man­ages to be both erotic and mean­ing­ful. “I re­alised that was the heart of the film, and that we had to avoid mak­ing it generic – some ro­ta­tion, some moan­ing, and then ‘next!’ What­ever.” Le­lio scoffs. “So I be­came quite ob­sessed with the speci­fici­ties of how those lovers phys­i­cally man­i­fest what they feel for each other. It was a beau­ti­ful, dif­fi­cult day of shoot­ing. And at the end, I re­mem­ber Rachel Weisz open­ing a bot­tle of whiskey and we all drank as if we’d had sex to­gether!” We’ll drink to that.


FOR­BID­DEN LOVE Ronit (Rachel Weisz) re­turns home, dis­rupt­ing the lives of Esti (Rachel McA­dams) and her hus­band Dovid (Alessan­dro Nivola, be­low).

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