Disobedience unlocks a melancholic romance from its triangular imprisonment. In Judaism, family life is regarded as a training ground for the Jewish way of life. Children are born into a religious community, where federations support schools, community centres and counselling services for the reverent strife each family leads. Its clerical boundaries indoctrinating the limitations of freedom. But what is freedom? No longer bound by the shackles of monotheistic traditions? Choosing to live the life one desires as opposed to being born into?
For Ronit, the estranged daughter of an old Rav who suddenly succumbs to illness, free will overpowers institutionalised obligation. Her childhood best friend, Esti, is unhappily married to her other nostalgic pal, Dovid. The latter claiming the position of chosen disciple within the Orthodox Jewish congregation given by Rav’s final testament. Suppressing her emotive lust for Ronit, Esti lives her life through fragmentation. Never wholly content. That is until Ronit flies back to London to discuss the disposition of her father’s house. A tantalising flame rekindles between the two. A fire in which “HaShem” controls its burning embers of love. Thus commencing an illicit romance that raises the ethics of traditional practices against contemporary culture.
Lelio, much like his work in ‘A Fantastic Woman’, highlights fundamental issues with archaic beliefs, and how emotions should not be controlled by sanctimonious scripts. The feature commences with a sermon of free will, a poignant theme tackled throughout. But with these actions come consequences. Ronit, having left the community years prior to her return, is faced with prejudice for her betrayal. Behaving in a manner not conforming to Orthodox culture. Esti, despite her yearning for freedom and adoration for Ronit, knows no different considering her marital vows to Dovid. Yet it is Ronit who provides the ornate key to Esti’s eternal lock. Providing a tangible triangle that will test each other’s beliefs, morals and ethics.
Dramatic without peering into melodrama, Disobedience functions solely on the central three performances given by Weisz, McAdams and Nivola. Each representing a node of significant religious virtue, with Weisz’ Ronit sinking to the bottom and Nivola’s Dovid escalating to the heavens above. The intimacy provided by both Weisz and McAdams was palpable. From the muted scenes of explicit sexual nature to the reminiscence of a previous life. They both emanate affection for one another, just through a simple gaze into each other’s soul. Weisz commanding each scene with a powerful aura of independence. McAdams, despite the wobbly British accent that occasionally sounded Swedish, providing the emotional conflict between religious duty and her own heart. The two supply a substantial amount of forbidden romance and engaging drama within the core themes explored.
The weak corner to this three-sided conundrum lies on Nivola’s involvement, or lack of involvement would be more fitting. His performance remained human, particularly when addressing the congregation. Yet, his character arguably is the most pivotal when discussing development. The emotional conflict between “releasing” his wife and maintaining both his religious and marital promises was unfortunately underdeveloped. Esti and Ronit are catalysts for Dovid’s antithetical perspective. Disobedience is as much about his alteration as it is their steamy relationship. However Lelio chose to focus on the latter rather than the former, therefore crafting an incomplete triangle of unlocked potential. Various character actions, such as Esti fleeing her abode overnight to visit a pharmacy, resembled purposeful double entendres for the sake of creating drama and prolonging character interventions. These should’ve been integrated more subtly.
Fortunately Cohen’s subdued cinematography, bolstered by saturated cold shades, emphasises the imprisonment Esti is experiencing. Beautifully shot as always. Herbert’s unique score also added some fluidity to the wavering romance, especially with the involvement of whimsical flutes.
Regardless of the agitations outlined, Disobedience manages to highlight important issues when discussing free will. By representing an illicit same-sex relationship, Lelio is able to convey the survival instincts of female empowerment, through two richly powerful performances, without resorting to cliched romantic tropes.