Un­holy trin­ity

Sex and re­li­gion col­lide in in­ert tale of for­bid­den love

Montreal Gazette - - MOVIES - TINA HAS­SAN­NIA

Chilean di­rec­tor Se­bastián Le­lio’s re­cent string of films, Glo­ria and A Fan­tas­tic Woman, por­tray unique, in­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ences of women char­ac­ters who are dis­arm­ingly gen­uine and au­then­tic. Dis­obe­di­ence falls into this cat­e­gory, too.

New York-based pho­tog­ra­pher Ronit (Rachel Weisz) re­turns to her Lon­don home to at­tend her Ortho­dox rabbi fa­ther’s fu­neral, where she encounters her child­hood friends Esti (Rachel McAdams) and Dovid (Alessan­dro Nivola). The two have mar­ried, and Dovid is ex­pected to suc­ceed Ronit’s fa­ther as the reli­gious fig­ure in the com­mu­nity. Even­tu­ally, we learn that the awk­ward­ness among the three­some is a re­sult of what caused Ronit’s de­par­ture from the reli­gious com­mu­nity. She left at a young age be­cause of her sexual ori­en­ta­tion — and her mu­tual ro­man­tic feel­ings for Esti.

What hap­pens next is com­pletely un­sur­pris­ing, and dis­ap­point­ingly sim­plis­tic. The rein­tro­duc­tion of a lib­er­ated woman into a pa­tri­ar­chal, closed-off reli­gious com­mu­nity rekin­dles cer­tain emotions and de­sires within Esti, which can­not be con­tained by her hus­band or the shei­tel (wig) she must wear as a mar­ried Ortho­dox Jewish woman.

Le­lio and the three ac­tors do as much as they can with this very ba­sic love-tri­an­gle story, based on a novel by Naomi Al­der­man. Some­one watch­ing the film with­out read­ing the book might as­sume that the in­te­rior emotions and con­flicted head-spa­ces of the char­ac­ters would find a more suit­able out­let in prose in­stead of cin­ema. Where Le­lio does his best work is fo­cus­ing on the so­ci­etal im­pli­ca­tions of the love tri­an­gle on the main three char­ac­ters. Dis­obe­di­ence doesn’t delve into the com­mu­nity’s re­ac­tions other than to pro­pel the plot — and in the case of one older woman, to show that not ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity finds Ronit dis­grace­ful — but the film does grace­fully de­pict the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect Esti’s de­sires have on Dovid, the rabbi’s star pupil, and the few prospects for Esti’s un­cer­tain fu­ture should she choose to leave him.

Per­haps to com­pen­sate for its facile plot, the cam­era of­ten lingers on close-up shots of the three leads as they each process their feel­ings, fresh trauma qui­etly un­load­ing in their eyes as they serenely try to ac­cept what has tran­spired. Ronit’s fa­ther’s home be­comes a strange refuge for the two women — only in the ghostly ab­sence of the pa­tri­ar­chal fig­ure can such a place be­come a safe haven for two queer women.

But the pace in Dis­obe­di­ence feels leaden and stale. It’s telling that the sex­u­ally charged make­out scenes be­tween Esti and Ronit are more tit­il­lat­ing than they maybe should be. The love­mak­ing here should feel cathar­tic and beau­ti­ful, and while it some­what fits those de­scrip­tors, these scenes are in­ter­est­ing only be­cause the rest of the film is com­par­a­tively te­dious.

The use of cer­tain tropes in the nar­ra­tive are also glar­ing given the film’s in­er­tia — when Dovid starts to read a suc­ces­sion speech from a piece of pa­per, only to go off-script in a fit of frus­tra­tion — one can’t help but wish that Le­lio had taken more time to craft his love story adap­ta­tion by think­ing through the enor­mity of ev­ery small artis­tic de­ci­sion.


In Dis­obe­di­ence, Rachel McAdams, left, and Rachel Weisz play two women whose love for each other is con­strained by the be­liefs of the reli­gious com­mu­nity in which they both grew up.

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