Directed by Sebastian Lelio Written by Sebastian Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz Starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams ###½
This past weekend, I paid an overdue visit to the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. (2018 slogan: “It’s complicated.” Oy, the shticky humour of this festival.) While the film I happened to catch – Mikael Buch’s smallscale drama Simon & Theodore – was fine enough, I would have paid double to simply witness the audience reaction to another TJFF selection: Sebastian Lelio’s taboo-busting romance, Disobedience.
The film, which opens in limited release this weekend, is a wonderfully sensuous and deliberately provocative look at what happens when London photographer Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns to the strict Orthodox Jewish community that once shunned her. The reason for the exile? That would be Ronit’s attraction to her friend, the now-married Esti (Rachel McAdams). Disobedience marks the first English-language film for Chilean director Lelio – whose transgender romance, A Fantastic Woman, recently won the Academy Award for best foreign-language film – and it is also his most affecting work. Early scenes are almost too heavy to bear, in terms of the repression both women face – even the muted colours of their North London surroundings are seemingly designed to drown their desires in dullness – but when the pair get the opportunity to face each other one-on-one, the energy is relentless.
A cheap and easy way to summarize Disobedience’s standout scene would be Blue Is the Warmest Color meets A Price Above Rubies (or, as the director himself quipped, “Jew is the Warmest Colour”), but Lelio’s film is about more than sex, or its perhaps easy ability to shock. It is a love story, as beautiful as it is devastating.