Sunday, January 6, 2019

Disobedience Upends Expectations In Welcome Ways

Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) has been left out of the loop as to the goings-on of the London-based Orthodox Jewish congregation that raised her, which means she's taken completely by surprise when she receives word that her father, a rabbi, has passed away. She now returns home to say goodbye to her now deceased father, which means she must now deal with a congregation that is immensely distrustful of her given how she's not one to just kowtow to tradition. She also must face David Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), who is now married to Esti (Rachel McAdams), a lady who harbors some personal romantic feelings for Ronit that our protagonist gladly reciprocates.

Considering the extremely old-fashioned manner of the area that Ronit once called home and that Esti still resides in, such a relationship is obviously taboo, but it'll also be a person boon to the two of them, particularly Esti who is looking to clamor for her own independent identity. Much like his other 2018 movie A Fantastic Woman, writer/director Sebastian Leilo makes Disobedience a tale about a member of the LGBTQA+ identity against the larger traditional world that refuses to accept the lead character (or characters, plural, in this case) for who they are. Between these two movies, Leilo has painted portraits of individuals who manage to find their own ways of asserting their own individuality in the face of an entire society saying "No" to their entire identity.

Though A Fantastic Woman may be the superior feature among the two Sebastian Leilo directorial efforts in question, Disobedience is still a well-polished production that especially works well as a showcase for the talents of its two lead performers. Rachel Weisz has been on a hot streak lately with her offbeat indie film work (her steely gaze and line deliveries in The Favourite are the stuff of legend!) and one can add her work in Disobedience to that trend without question. Weisz perfectly captures someone who's been fighting to chart her own destiny for years now, she has no reservations about doing things like arguing against traditional societal expectations of women at a dinner party. 

Weisz excels with her work here as does Rachel McAdams portraying the complete opposite of Weisz's character, a woman who's struggling to get her own individual identity established in her day-to-day life. Aside from a British accent that seems to fade in and out, McAdams, like Weisz, zeroes in on the personality of her character in the script (which was penned by both Leilo and Rebecca Lenkiewicz) and bring it to life beautifully, years of pent-up frustration over subduing who she is comes through in ways both big and small in McAdams portrayal of Esti.  On top of being great performances individually, Weisz and McAdams also have good chemistry when it comes time to play their contrasting characters off one another in their dialogue exchanges.

Alessandro Nivola also impresses in a supporting performance that goes in a surprisingly complex direction than what I could have expected. The way his character ebbs and flows throughout this story is evidence of how this script has a much-appreciated tendency to go in nicely unexpected directions in its story, including the subtly executed decision to set this specific story in the modern-day world, a welcome refutation to how far too many dramas set stories about queer characters facing oppression are set in the past so that heterosexual audiences don't have to grapple with the idea that bigotry still exists in the modern era. Also a welcome departure from the norm is an ending that, thankfully, avoids the overly tragic conclusions of similar queer dramas for something more subdued, melancholy and emotionally impactful.

Visually, Disobedience isn't quite as outstanding as its writing, its costumes, editing and camerawork are plenty serviceable (there's some nicely done subtly incorporated extended one-shots to be found in here) but they don't crackle with creativity like some of the decisions made in regards to the characters and story. At least these parts of the production don't detract much from the far more impressive parts of Disobedience, a quietly stirring ode to the importance of asserting one's own identity in life that upholds the sterling track record of both Sebastian Leilo directorial efforts and feature films starring Rachel Weisz as a no-BS lesbian. 

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