Love in a cold cli­mate which fails to warm up

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - ANNE JOSEPH

RACHEL WEISZ gives an as­sured per­for­mance as Ronit Krushka, the es­tranged daugh­ter of a revered rabbi in this highly an­tic­i­pated, poignant, slow paced tale of for­bid­den love, loss and com­mu­nity. Based on Naomi Al­der­man’s award win­ning 2006 novel of the same name, the film is the English lan­guage de­but of Chilean di­rec­tor Se­bastián Le­lio

(A Fan­tas­tic Woman, Glo­ria), who also co-wrote the script with play­wright Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida).

Set within the con­fines of north Lon­don’s Ortho­dox com­mu­nity (much of it was shot in Hen­don), Ronit, a New York based pho­tog­ra­pher, re­turns to the place of her child­hood on learn­ing of her fa­ther’s death. But her pres­ence is largely an un­wel­come one, to a com­mu­nity that is cold, joy­less and de­void of com­pas­sion; a mood re­in­forced by cin­e­matog­ra­pher Danny Co­hen’s use of muted, bleak tones.

Ronit’s ar­rival stirs up events and emo­tions of the past and un­set­tles the tight knit com­mu­nity’s sta­tus quo, in par­tic­u­lar with her old friend and for­mer lover, Esti (pow­er­fully and sym­pa­thet­i­cally played by Rachel McA­dams), who, since Ronit’s de­par­ture — a con­se­quence of their af­fair — has tried to ful­fil the role of a du­ti­ful, mar­ried woman with their shared child­hood friend and the rabbi’s likely suc­ces­sor, Dovid (Alessan­dro Nivola).

The two women soon reignite their re­la­tion­ship cul­mi­nat­ing in a set-piece love­mak­ing scene. How­ever, the ex­ces­sively long se­quence feels over chore­ographed and strangely lacks the fierce in­ten­sity, pas­sion and ur­gency con­veyed so beau­ti­fully be­tween two re­li­gious women in the Is­raeli de­but fea­ture, Red Cow.

Un­der­pin­ning the drama is an at­mos­phere of over­whelm­ing re­straint, with each of the three pro­tag­o­nists suf­fer­ing in­ner tor­ment. Esti has sup­pressed her sex­ual iden­tity as a gay woman in a mar­riage that was meant to “cure” her. Ronit may have es­caped the stric­tures of re­li­gious life for sec­u­lar and sex­ual free­dom, but she is grap­pling with the pain of her fa­ther’s re­jec­tion and a loss of roots: his will stated he was child­less. Mean­while, Dovid is try­ing to up­hold tra­di­tion and man­age the sim­mer­ing sit­u­a­tion. “It’s my house we’re talking about. I keep it in or­der,” he tells sus­pi­cious mem­bers of the com­mu­nity.

But for all its big emo­tions, Disobe­di­ence is, sur­pris­ingly, stilted. Not only is there is lit­tle chem­istry be­tween the women, the nar­ra­tive, at times, tends to spoon feed view­ers.

Ronit ask­ing Esti if she has sex with Dovid ev­ery Fri­day, only to be told that “It’s ex­pected,” verges on the faintly ridicu­lous — an overly heavy-handed sig­nalling of what Ortho­dox Jews are sup­posed to do. More­over, surely Ronit would have known the com­mu­nity’s cus­toms, in­clud­ing that hug­ging Dovid — which she goes to do when she first meets him — is not per­mit­ted; a trans­gres­sion for which she then apol­o­gises pro­fusely. In the in­ter­ests of au­then­tic­ity, the film had ap­prox­i­mately a dozen Jewish con­sul­tants but, de­spite this in­vest­ment, th­ese mi­nor mo­ments grate some­what.

Frus­trat­ingly, there are few sur­prises. Esti’s dilemma is more about a fear of break­ing away from the safety of the only life she has known. And, not­with­stand­ing her re­bel­lious na­ture, Ronit feels strangely one-di­men­sional. Apart from Esti’s con­vinc­ing, im­pas­sioned speech to Dovid in the fi­nal act, Disobe­di­ence doesn’t go be­yond a su­per­fi­cial ex­am­i­na­tion of its char­ac­ters’ strug­gles in a so­ci­ety that calls for richer scru­tiny.

Disobe­di­ence is on gen­eral re­lease from 30 Novem­ber

PHOTO: CAN­DLE­LIGHT PRO­DUC­TIONS

In con­trol: Alessan­dro

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