LONDON: Disobedience is based on the Orange Award-winning novel of the same name by Naomi Alderman. It’s staffed by name actors. It’s directed by Sebastián Lelio, who won an Academy Award for best foreign language film with A Fantastic Woman earlier this year.
So why such a perfunctory release more than a year after the film premiered to good notices at Toronto?
In common with Lelio’s previous heroines, Disobedience concerns an unconventional woman. Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz, who also produced) returns to north London following the death of her father.
Ronit’s life as a photographer in New York – ice skating forlornly and alone, sex with a random stranger in a public lavatory – leaves her ill-suited to readjust to the Orthodox Jewish community in which she was raised.
The reasons for her long-term exile become clear after she is reunited with Esti (Rachel McAdams), with whom she once had a lesbian relationship, and Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), the mutual childhood friend who married Esti.
Once the women are reunited, dithering ensues as the bisexual Ronit and the Orthodox Esti struggle with their feelings, complications and convention. Dovid mostly looks on helplessly.
A delicately constructed drama that requires considerable graft from its three central characters, Disobedience eschews emotional pyrotechnics in favour of restraint, meaningful sideways glances, and whispered arguments. Plotwise, one can’t help but question the convenience (or possibly inconvenience) of the circumstances depicted.
In other respects, the film doesn’t put a foot wrong. If anything, the proceedings can feel drably pristine. From the handsomely framed sensuality of its sex scenes to the perfectly formed swells of Matthew Herbert’s music, this carefully crafted chamber piece may prove too tasteful for more rambunctious sensibilities, although it ought to be a good fit for awards season.
The veteran cinematographer Danny Cohen (Room, The King’s Speech) makes great, naturalistic use of London’s bright grey skies and escalators.
And even under mousy wigs and minimal makeup, Weisz and McAdams shine like the movie stars they are.