The Crimson White

Review: ‘Disobedience’ explores love in an oppressive society

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CW/ Austin Bigoney

CW/ Austin Bigoney

CW/ Austin Bigoney

Leah Goggins, Staff Writer

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“Disobedience” is quiet and reserved, the color palette neutral and much of the dialogue restrained. It stars Rachel Weisz as Ronit, a bisexual woman exiled from her conservative Jewish community, and Rachel McAdams as Esti, the woman Ronit left behind.

After the death of Ronit’s father, a rabbi highly esteemed within their London-area Orthodox Jewish community, Ronit returns home to sort out her father’s affairs. Ronit is caught off-guard at every turn, first by the revelation that Esti and Dovid, her childhood friends, have married; then by the announcement that the rabbi left her childhood home to the synagogue. All the while, Ronit and Esti navigate the resurgence of romantic and sexual tension between them, which ultimately culminates in an affair that threatens to rip the three childhood friends apart.

Scenes of intimacy between Ronit and Esti are incorporated sparingly – perhaps too sparingly – but the chemistry between Weisz and McAdams is palpable. When the two women embark on an impromptu getaway into the city, the result is a break from their frustratingly muted interactions; the trip into London hums with electricity and sparks up flames when Ronit and Esti share a kiss in the alleyway or find healing in a hotel room.

The hotel becomes a sanctuary, a place where Ronit infamously spits into Esti’s mouth, a gentle exchange that feels like an act of sacred worship, a sexual sacrament. Esti later returns to the room as she processes an unwelcome discovery, taking refuge in the indelible memories that linger within the space.

Another constant presence in the film is Dovid, who is now a rabbi himself and the heir-apparent to Ronit’s father’s legacy. Dovid and Esti, who admits to Ronit that she only “fancies” women, married only after encouragement from the late rabbi, whose final sermon on free-will haunts Dovid for the entirety of Ronit’s stay. Dovid struggles with reconciling the love and respect he has for both his wife and Ronit with the humiliating sting of betrayal he feels over their affair.

The tension between Esti and Dovid reaches a fever pitch in their own kitchen, as Dovid angrily explodes, and Esti admits to her unending feelings for Ronit.

“I wanted it to happen,” Esti cries out in frustration, cornered in her own home as she slams her hands into Dovid’s chest. It is undoubtedly McAdams’s most powerful scene.

“Disobedience” is Sebastián Lelio’s first film following his 2018 Academy Award win for Best Foreign Language Picture. The film screens at the Bama Theatre on Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m. More information is available online via bamatheatre.org.

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Review: ‘Disobedience’ explores love in an oppressive society