It’s only been nine months since director Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman collected the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film but his follow-up Disobedience is already here. Like the earlier film, Disobedience – his first English-language film – follows a woman whose freedom to mourn someone close to her is hampered the hostility and prejudices of the community and relatives surrounding her. Here it’s Rachel Weisz’s photographer Ronit who returns from New York to the Orthodox Jewish community she left behind after learning of the death of her father, the community’ beloved Rav. Whilst he is deeply mourned, Ronit is handled with trepidation, unease and downright hostility, with Weisz doing just as good a job as A Fantastic Woman’s heroine Marina at showing the frustrations and anger of being unable to grieve freely due to the judgements of others. Like Marina, she puts up a front to protect her feelings but the cracks are there.
The film’s marketing concentrates on the same-sex relationship between Ronit and childhood friend Esti (Rachel McAdams) so the film’s gradual reveal that Ronit’s long-term absence and shunning by the Orthodox Community has something to do with her sexuality shouldn’t come as a surprise (the LGBT theme being yet another connection to A Fantastic Woman). Regardless, the way the film peels back the layers of the pair’s history and how it shaped their present is subtle and natural – there’s no forced exposition dump, just snippets of conversations. The film comes to form a love triangle around the pair and Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), a fellow childhood friend and disciple of Ronit’s father, now married to Esti, but the drama remains underplayed. This isn’t to say it doesn’t hit hard but there’s no room for melodrama or histrionics here – for the most part Lelio allows the range of emotions to play across his actors’ faces.
All three rise to the occasion – Weisz continues to show why she’s one of the country’s most underrated actors in a haunted, brittle but spirited performance that may go overlooked during awards season simply due to her own role in the upcoming The Favourite. McAdams matches her, her face conveying vulnerability and desire in equal measure (like Nivola, McAdams performs the role with the added difficulty of mastering an English accent, a challenge both rise to). Nivola has perhaps the trickiest role – in other films with a similar plot his character would be the unsympathetic obstacle the lovers must defeat to be together. Here, he and Lelio sketch a more nuanced character, his faith, his marriage and his affection for his childhood friend causing huge conflict behind the measured stance he most adopt due to his place in the community. The marketing may focus on the passion between Ronit and Esti – perfectly natural, given how much it informs the plot. The film itself offers even more in its exploration of grief, faith, duty, family and community, all anchored together by three astounding performances.Find your cinema and book tickets