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National Post (National Edition) - - POST MOVIES - Tina Has­san­nia

Dis­obe­di­ence

Chilean di­rec­tor Se­bas­tian 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 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 the awk­ward air be­tween the three­some is due to the rea­son­ing be­hind 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 un­sur­pris­ing, and dis­ap­point­ingly sim­plis­tic. The rein­tro­duc­tion of a lib­er­ated woman into a closed-off reli­gious com­mu­nity rekin­dles 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 would be led to 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. It 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 grace­fully de­picts the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect Esti’s de­sires have on Dovid, and the few prospects for Esti’s un­cer­tain fu­ture should she choose to leave him.

Per­haps to com­pen­sate for its plot, the cam­era of­ten lingers on close-ups 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 women — only in the ghostly ab­sence of the pa­tri­ar­chal fig­ure can such a place be­come a haven for two queer women.

But the pace in Dis­obe­di­ence feels leaden and stale com­pared to Le­lio’s pre­vi­ous work. It’s telling that the sex­u­ally charged make-out scenes be­tween Esti and Ronit — in­clud­ing the con­spic­u­ous de­tail of Ronit lust­fully spit­ting into Esti’s mouth — are more tit­il­lat­ing than they maybe should be. The love-mak­ing here should feel cathar­tic and beau­ti­ful, and while it some­what fits those de­scrip­tors, these scenes are only in­ter­est­ing be­cause the rest of the film is com­par­a­tively te­dious.

The use of cer­tain tropes 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 Le­lio had taken more time to craft his love story adap­ta­tion by think­ing through ev­ery small artis­tic de­ci­sion.

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