Starring Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola,
I never thought I would be able to tell if a movie was headed for VOD, but after seeing so many acquisition titles at TIFF (and knowing how this works), Disobedience is one of handful that won’t get a major theatrical release. They are promoting it as a lesbian film, which is both arguable and questionable, but it’s no Carol. It’s similar to Menashe in the exploration to Orthodox Jewish behavior and customs. Two Rachel’s apparently are not as good as one, as the Oscar winner and Oscar nominee have little to no chemistry in this atmospheric drama. Weisz (My Cousin Rachel) is in the lead, the film is from her perspective, as she returns home to the life she left behind. The script is more about the observation of time and place, than examining behaviors and those conversations we want the characters to have (a nice way of saying it’s boring).
Ronit Krushka (Weisz) abandoned her faith and her father, the respected local Rabbi, to peruse life and a photography career in New York. A phone call from England, announcing the passing of her father comes as a shock. She didn’t know he was sick and hadn’t spoken to him in a while. When she arrives for the funeral she’s shocked to find her former best friends Esti (McAdams) and Dovid (Nivola) have married. It was her father who suggested Esti and Dovid marry to help with Esti’s urges. Dovid is to take her father’s place but the flame between Esti and Ronit reignites, putting everyone at risk. Ronit’s departure from father and faith was to spare everyone embarrassment and pursue a new life. Now her return is doing just that once the community gets wind of their behavior.
The script is more about the observation of time and place, than examining behaviors and those conversations we want the characters to have (a nice way of saying it’s boring).
Our introduction to Ronit in the first few minutes of the film show her getting the bad news and then it’s alcohol, sex, and ice skating before the title credit appears. “Honor is the most important thing,” someone says. It’s honor that both Ronit and eventually Esti reject for passion. Chilean director Sebastián Lelio adapts Naomi Alderman’s novel but there is a blunt miscalculation in his presentation of these two women. Hardly ever is the audience privy to what either them feels. We cannot get past the faces of Weisz/AcAdams playing parts, their performance barely skims the surface of what makes these complex women tick.
In one of the earlier sequences, at the wake when Ronit discovers her two former friends are married, the scene feels incomplete. It’s trying to set things up for a later scene, where we realize Ronit and Esti are former lovers. That scene would only work if we didn’t know they were getting together at some point in the film, which we do, because that’s the entire marketing hook of the film. There is one mildly graphic love scene, but it’s shot in the most uninteresting way, further exposing the lack of chemistry between the actresses. There are so many scenes where nothing happens and the narrative just sits there, turning this movie into a complete snooze fest. Time after time, Esti is forced to choose
The exploration of sexuality and religion has never been more tedious.