Despite what the trailers may lead you to believe, Disobedience is not just a typical forbidden lesbian love story.
It’s an old-fashioned drama but Leilo manages to elevate the narrative. Doing away with exposition the viewer is pushed to pay attention to how the characters interact with each other. The script deftly uses the little details that dramas throwaway for show – gestures, body language, and eye-fucking.
What you get is a character-driven story filled with subtle yet palpable tension. There is a forbidden love story here, between two former lovers divided by the choices they’ve made. Their struggle with a religious community that shaped their existence gives it more gravitas.
Esti stayed and lost herself. Ronit left and got lost. Both need to let go but don’t know-how. Fortunately, their desires are not portrayed in a gratuitous here’s-how-lesbians-have-sex kind of way.
The chemistry between The Rachels amplifies these connections. Rachel McAdams is committed to the role, but can’t go deeper to portray the anguish of her character. Rachel Weisz smolders at every opportune moment. Alessandro Nivola is also good. All of these characters are just trying to deal with the cards that they’re given, and the consequences of how they choose to do so.
That being said, Disobedience buckles under the weight of its straightforward set-up and protracted plot. It’s heavy-handed and repetitive. The script’s obvious choices stick out in the understated execution.
Cinematography combines a muted palette and lighting with the downcast London weather to create a gloomy repressed atmosphere. But we don’t see much about the community to fully establish an archaic ritualized way of life.
It has a measured character study that makes for a cold glacial-paced picture, and the whole movie is directionless.
Nonetheless, when Ronit and Esti kiss, there’s a certain release, as if you and the people you’re watching have been holding their breath all this time. Ultimately this story is about them and the movie does a good job of exploring their connection.
In the end, Ronit and Esti manage to gain the closure that they sorely needed. In doing so, the movie is not only about two Jewish lesbians trying to break free from an Orthodox Jewish community. It’s about having the courage to find your own freedom.
Albeit heavy-handed Disobedience has great performances and a well-executed character-driven story, resulting in a nuanced good old-fashioned drama.