DISOBEDIENCE | Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams are illicit lovers in Sebastián Lelio’s follow‑up to A Fantastic Woman…
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.
ETA | 30 NOVEMBER / DISOBEDIENCE OPENS NEXT MONTH.
FORBIDDEN LOVE Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns home, disrupting the lives of Esti (Rachel McAdams) and her husband Dovid (Alessandro Nivola, below).