Posts Tagged ‘Sebastian Lelio’

30th July
written by Mad Cow


Rating: Rated R for some strong sexuality

Mad Cow’s rating: 

This movie is an amazing and delightful contrast to Call Me by Your Name, that highly touted film about gay “love.” This one is gay too but it’s about lesbians. Lesbians used to be included in the word “gay” but were often left out so the political ones insisted upon the exclusive use of a separate title, lesbian. But so few people can manage to say the word lesbian out loud that they (and we) often just refer to lesbians as gay, and most heterosexual people continue to picture men as the principal members of the gay tribe. Either way, lesbians, a subset of women, after all, are ignored. In our heteronormative patriarchal society, Disobedience was not preceded with eager anticipation and indeed few people will go to see it, at least in the U.S. Not to mention the criticism of Jewish Orthodoxy. Still, the movie is terrific.

Let me say at the outset that I know next to nothing about the various aspects of Judaism. What is practiced in the film is certainly Orthodox but perhaps an extreme form of orthodoxy. Men and women who are not married to each other cannot touch, and the women in the synagogue must sit separately in the balcony of the main center for worship. If you are part of such a community, please forgive any mistakes I may make here. The film is based on the novel by Naomi Alderman. The screenplay was written by Sebastian Lelio and Rebecca Lienkiewicz. Lelio directed.

When Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weitz), a photographer who has been living in New York, hears that her father has died, she returns to

McAdams & Weitz

her Orthodox community in London for the rituals surrounding his death. Her father Rav Krushka, (Anton Lesser) was the most learned rabbi and thus the leader of the congregation. She was not informed that he was ill but received word about his death. People are shocked to see her and for the most part are displeased with her return even for this event.

Ronit visits her old friend, and the Rav’s mentee, Rabbi Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola) and finds out that he has married her other old friend Esti (Rachel McAdams). NOTE MILD SPOILER HERE: We find out that she and Esti had had a lesbian relationship before Ronit left and this is likely why she left the community and fled to New York. In the course of the film viewers are held in suspense a bit too long about why Ronit is greeted with such judgment, beyond her flagrant questioning of the common religious norms. The film, is, after all, called Disobedience and advertised with pictures of the two women kissing.

The dialogue is powerful and authentic. In spite of the circumstances, one can hear traces of the former childhood friendships between Dovid, Esti and Ronit as they chat casually about this and that. Likewise the connection between Esti and Ronit is not only a very chemical one but also expressed in a shared sense of humor. Fundamentally, though, the women are hot for each other, and not entirely in love. Call Me by Your Name announces quite loudly that it is about love while demonstrating only lust. In general though, even as movie couples jump into bed five minutes after meeting, most movies (rom coms anyway) implausibly present sex as the inevitable gateway to love. This film does not and is thus unusual not only for gay films but for heterosexual ones as well.

The director should have hired a consultant about the outlandish lesbian sex scene. News flash: this is not the way most lesbians have sex. It is quite bizarre and disappointing since there are so few lesbian sex scenes in movies. I’m a bit of an old prude and would usually prefer that sex scenes be left to the imagination. But it you are going to have one, you directors out there, get it right.

There are several themes that weave through the plot, conveyed with superb direction and acting. Esti is faced with an existential


crisis, not only with regard to her attraction to women, but also her very life. She enjoys teaching girls in an Orthodox school, but now she is confronted with her childhood friend’s freedom and agency. At one point Ronit buys a wig and wears it as a joke, but for Esti wearing a wig is required and not a matter of joking. The harshness and outright cruelty of this demanding community crush her and continue to crush Ronit. This is about male supremacy and social control. Ronit is hurt by the local obituary that states that her father had no children and is further stung by what her father left her, conveyed by her unsympathetic Uncle Hartog.

The two women are wonderful together. McAdams and Weitz are brilliant in conveying who they are and how they are connected. Weitz is free and easy and it would have been an understandable shortcut for McAdams to be portrayed as a compliant mousy woman, confined as she is, but she is not. She is smart and funny and thoughtful and in many ways enjoys her life. Nivola as Dovid also is great at showing his ambivalence and personal feelings of love and compassion in the midst of his feelings of responsibility and devotion to his religion.

Weitz & Nivola

I give this movie 4 cowbells (stars) out of four. I am disappointed that it was given little notice by the press.


Comments Off on Disobedience