Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Rachel Weisz as Ronit Krushka, Rachel McAdams as Esti Kuperman and Alessandro Nivola as David Kuperman in Disobedience
"When the price of obedience is a life of lies where humiliation has no bounds, the pent-up desire explodes." | Photo: Bleecker Street

The angel and the beast, instinct versus free will, the gift of choice when "from earth He fashioned men and women", and oh, the lure of disobedience - these are the themes in the last pronouncements of Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser) during a sermon he gives at a North London synagogue before he collapses dead to the ground.

Meanwhile, in New York, photographer Ronit (Rachel Weisz) gets a call during a shoot with a heavily tattooed man. "Jesus really hurt," says the subject with a nod to his chest. Leviticus may come to mind but director Sebastián Lelio also lets us connect dots as we please. Ronit reacts to the news.

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She goes to a bar and has sex with a strange man in the oxblood-coloured restroom there. Then Ronit goes ice skating. Next she is on the plane to London, tearing at her sweater, because all of it is what you do when you hear of the death of your estranged father in a Lelio film.

Upon her arrival back in the Orthodox Jewish community she had left so many years ago, she reunites with two old friends, Esti (Rachel McAdams) and Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). Dovid, "like a son" to her father, replaced her in more than one way.

Lelio's Disobedience, co-written with Rebecca Lenkiewicz and based on the novel by Naomi Alderman, a highlight of the Tribeca Film Festival, is a feast of sumptuous acting. The two women, whose past, present and future relationship the film centres on are emotional open books. Rachel Weisz, who is also a producer on the film, and Rachel McAdams let us read the nuances of their complicated feelings on their faces. When the price of obedience is a life of lies where humiliation has no bounds, the pent-up desire explodes.

It is Nivola's performance as the third party that is boldest in its opacity. From one second to the next, we do not know how Dovid, a rabbi, a man of faith, seemingly so set on his track, will react. Superbly suspended between menace and kindness, he remains the greatest mystery to us and to himself. The dead father looms over the story.

"We weren't expecting you," are Dovid's words of greeting to Ronit. Unlike quite a few others in the community, for him, unexpected doesn't mean unwelcome.

Ronit wants to hug him hello, he moves away, no physical contact allowed for an Orthodox man. Lelio trusts his actors to convey it all through body language. The rules of tradition come up against the physical quick violent pang of rejection. This is only the beginning.

Reviewed on: 25 Apr 2018
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After the death of her estranged rabbi father, a New York photographer returns to the Orthodox Jewish community in north London where she grew up and, in doing so, reignites long-dormant passions and controversies.
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Director: Sebastián Lelio

Writer: Sebastián Lelio, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, based on the book by Naomi Alderman

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, Anton Lesser, Alessandro Nivola, Cara Horgan, Nicholas Woodeson, Sophia Brown, Allan Corduner, Bernardo Santos, Alexis Zegerman, David Olawale Ayinde, Steve Furst, Dominic Applewhite, Bernice Stegers, Mark Stobbart

Year: 2017

Runtime: 114 minutes

Country: Ireland, UK, US

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