With his second release of 2018, Sebastián Lelio attempts to trade one fantastic woman for two. But don’t be fooled by the promotional images of Rachel-on-Rachel (Weisz and McAdams). Disobedience isn’t a swooning romantic story of forbidden love, or even an examination of sexuality, but a mostly staid and repressed look at women’s place in Orthodox Judaism.
Like Menashe, Disobedience is a study of an individual’s attempt to reconcile modern life with the more antiquated elements of a patriarchal religion, a far more interesting premise than a kiss-off between two ostensibly straight actors.
Weisz’s Roneit, McAdams’ Esti and Nivola’s Dovid form the central triptych, with Weisz the de facto lead. With Esti’s arc the most compelling this seems misguided, especially as McAdams brings her absolute A-game – a joyous relief from a star who could easily coast by in lacklustre romcoms.
Sparse back story and a plodding pace during the first act make it difficult to believe in much feeling between the two women, a flaw that extends to the awful sex scene. Near-pornographic voyeurism is a nasty shock after the sensitivity of Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman. It’s gratuitous and provocative, with cinematography that frames Weisz and McAdams from an outside perspective. This failure to represent subjectivity affords no character development or insight and is a disservice to anyone who identifies with the women depicted.
Disobedience falters again with its inelegant screenplay. Far too many lines of dialogue consist only of ‘what?’ (particularly from McAdams – we get it, she’s nailed English vowels). Multiple false endings preclude the conclusion, which thankfully refuses to pander to expectation and rings truer than much of what comes before.
Lelio once again proves apt at presenting the exclusionary prejudice of a specific community. If only he’d applied the same sensitivity and nuance to the female characters.
CAST: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Anton Lesser, Alessandro Nivola, Allan Corduner, Nicholas Woodeson
DIRECTOR: Sebastián Lelio
WRITERS: Sebastián Lelio, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Naomi Alderman (based on the novel by)
SYNOPSIS: A woman returns to the community that shunned her for her attraction to a childhood friend. Once back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality.