I’m just going to get it out of my system and let my man-brain take over. YEAH, a pair of attractive Rachels are gettin’ it on! Now that I’ve fished at the bottom of the barrel, let’s move on.
The story looks like it’s about a Jewish woman who returns to her home after her rabbi father passes away. As she gets reacquainted with those that originally shunned her, she is also reacquainted with her lesbian lover, who is now married, and begin an affair that threatens them both.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Rachel Weisz (MY COUSIN RACHEL , THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS , and the upcoming THE FAVOURITE ), Rachel McAdams (GAME NIGHT , DOCTOR STRANGE , SPOTLIGHT , and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS ), and Alessandro Nivola (YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE , THE NEON DEMON , and upcoming films THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT  and THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE ).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing, we have Sebastián Lelio, known for A FANTASTIC WOMAN (2018) and the upcoming GLORIA (2018). Co-writing the screenplay is Rebecca Lenkiewicz, known for stuff I’ve never heard of. Composing the score is Matthew Herbert, known for A FANTASTIC WOMAN. The cinematographer is Danny Cohen, known for VICTORIA & ABDUL (2017), FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (2016), and ROOM (2015). Finally, the editor is Nathan Nugent, known for ROOM.
Overall, this looks like it’s going to be good, but I think I already have the movie pegged. The affair is going to kind of abruptly start with very little build-up. They’re going to get made in the end and both get shunned and live happily ever after with each other in their own way, or it’ll a tragic tale and McAdams’ character will stay married as a dutiful Jew and both women wind up unhappy. Let’s see how I do.
This is my honest opinion of: DISOBEDIENCE
Jewish photographer Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) has just learned that her rabbi father has passed away. This is a complicated matter as she left her community years before after they shunned her for having a lesbian attraction to her childhood friend and lover, Esti (Rachel McAdams). Upon arrival, she learns that Esti is married to their mutual friend, Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), who was Ronit’s father’s closest disciple and is in talks of taking up the mantel as the new rabbi. Despite initial hostilities, both passive-aggressive and quite obvious from many in the community, Ronit and Esti discover that their feelings from so long ago have not diminished and begin an affair, despite her marriage to Dovid and each finding themselves struggling to follow their hearts, or be faithful to their religion.
I liked it. I’m not sure if I loved it, but I liked it.
Ugh, it’s probably impossible to talk about this movie without it’s signature lesbian sex scene. For you penis-for-brains perverts out there, yes, the sex scene was hot. Lots of kissing, hands down panties, and topped with Weisz spitting in McAdams’ mouth. Oh yeah, that happens. Twice. No, it’s not the steamiest lesbian sex scene I’ve seen. That’s honor goes to either BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (2013), or THE HANDMAIDEN (2016). But now that we got that out of the way, let’s try and remember that this isn’t a porno and actually talk about it like proper human beings. Honestly, I think any graphic sex scene can be really powerful if done right and I think that this movie does it very well. We understand that these two women are part of a very religious community and have to abide by their religion’s word if they don’t want to be shamed. However, they give in their passions and take that risk anyway. We know that Esti is in a marriage with a man that she doesn’t love, and is only married because the community pressured her into it to possibly “cure” her of her homosexual urges. So it’s completely understandable why they wanted this for themselves and each other.
However, this does present my first major problem, and I’m starting to notice this more and more as I see more movies: the story being about the wrong person. From beginning to end, I feel like Ronit never quite developed. In fact, some of her actions were kind of annoying, but I’ll tackle that later. I think the movie should have been about Esti. She’s the one who is in a situation where she has to lie to her community, her husband, and even herself. She’s the one with the most dramatic problem and has the most to lose should her relationship with Ronit get discovered by someone who wouldn’t be understanding. By the end of the story, of toward it, she’s the one who develops the guts to stand up for herself, to speak her mind, demand her freedom, and gets the biggest reward for her struggles (sort of). At least, moreso than anyone else. What does Ronit gain if she achieves her goals? Sure, she gets Esti. Cool beans, but what’s at stake if she doesn’t? The community shunning her? Ronit’s already experienced that and now lives in what I can only assume is upscale New York with a pretty swanky job as a photographer. It doesn’t look like she’d be going back to a miserable existence. No romantic relationships, sure, but still not without her luxuries and, according to her, friends. I’m sure someone can say, “Well, she keeps herself busy with work and friends to hide from the pain that she’s avoided for so many years,” or something like that, but we don’t really get a sense of that until after Ronit is informed that her father died, and the audience could easily chock that up to “grieving.” Plus, we don’t see her with many friends.
Also, as predicted, the affair between Ronit and Esti was pretty abrupt. For much of their initial screentime together, Esti was pretty indifferent toward Ronit. Barely looking at her, or looking at her awkwardly. Either that, or she talks to her with a pretty cold and semi-insensitive tone. Like when Ronit asks her, “Do you even want me here,” Esti simply responds with, “Do what you want.” Okay, that’d be all well and good were it not for the fact that the next scene that they share, their first scene where it’s just the two of them, is Ronit gathering her belongings from her father’s house, and they start making out. In retrospect, it comes out of nowhere. Well, maybe not for Ronit, but for Esti to be so okay with it after so much time is a little unrealistic and doesn’t showcase her inner turmoil very well. It also doesn’t help that there were a lot of these make-out scenes and they were about to get borderline exploitative. They didn’t quite get to that point, but… it almost got there. Were it not for the incredible acting between Weisz and McAdams, and Lelio’s direction, I can’t deny that the make-outs were blazing with passion and emotion, and I would almost call their eventual sex scene hollow. But it’s followed through pretty well and the rest of Ronit and Esti’s relationship woes were strong enough to carry it through to the end.
Also, I’m kind of mixed on the nudity presented here. On the one hand, I get it, it’s a female’s story, so it’s only natural to possibly showcase female nudity if it’s important to the story, and it’s done justice. My only issue is the male nudity. There isn’t any. I think we see Nivola’s ass once, but wouldn’t it be beneficial for something more than PG-13? I mean, it’s also kind of about a woman who has sex with a man that she doesn’t want to have sex with. So shouldn’t a penis repulse her? On the other hand, I don’t think it’s uber necessary for a couple reasons. One, they show Dovid and Esti having sex and she looks like she’s clearly (and humorously) faking her pleasure. Also, showing disgust toward his penis might run the risk of showing Dovid as a repulsive figure, even though he himself is just a product of his religious beliefs, and is an otherwise decent dude… minus the time he just barges in on Esti taking a shower. I really hated that moment from him. But I don’t know, what does anyone else think? I’m usually one for equality. If it’s okay to show a woman’s tits, it shouldn’t be a problem to show a man’s dick, but this has me on the fence.
I do appreciate some of the subtleties presented. Like when Ronit first arrives back in town and is about to go into Dovid’s home, she buttons her top button before approaching. While I might say that the blouse she was wearing was pretty conservative in its own right, I can’t say that I don’t get it. Also, the cinematography can be pretty damn good. After Dovid finds out about their affair (it’s not a spoiler if it’s highly hinted at in the trailer) and goes to the synagogue, Esti trails behind him as he’s talking to the other rabbis and sees him through a swinging door, and after each swing, all we see from a distance is a hurt and judgmental expression from him. It’s really effective.
I think my biggest problem with the movie is the ending. I seriously wished it ended on that three-way hug between Ronit, Esti, and Dovid. That was a powerful moment and would have otherwise kept things positively ambiguous. Instead, we have a final scene that I don’t like. Ronit and Esti have this steamy affair, Esti practically demands her freedom from Dovid, and he grants it to her. So… why doesn’t Ronit stay with Esti? I understand why Esti doesn’t leave, because she’s pregnant and likely wants to raise the baby around its biological father, but it seems like Ronit has stronger motivations to stick around than to go back to her life. Sure, no one just up and leaves one life for another, at least not very often, but we’re not shown exactly why she’s tied down in New York. She can be a photographer anywhere and doesn’t seem to live too far from the big city where someone of her talent can find decent work.
Overall, I like this movie. The performances are amazing from the three leads, the dilemmas are understandable, the romance is passionate, and some seriously gratifying moments. It’s not without its flaws. I think Ronit is a slightly more bland character to follow as opposed to Esti, the romance starts between the two characters pretty abruptly, and I disagreed with the ending. But as far as a recommendation is concerned, I think this is worth seeing. It’s no movie of the year, but it’s a worth the time if you’re interested, and I’m curious what the Jewish community thinks of this movie, if the belief system here is represented accurately. Love may be defiant, but seeing this movie is worth it.
My honest rating for DISOBEDIENCE: 4/5