DISOBEDIENCE gets 5/10 Hated for loving

Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola


Winning the Best Foreign Film Oscar earlier this year with the acclaimed A Fantastic Woman, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio happens to be launching his English-language debut just months afterwards. Unfortunately, it’s a disappointingly plain and emotionally underwhelming drama that tries more than it succeeds. It’s filled with great acting from the three leads, but it doesn’t cover up the fact this plays out like an arthouse soap opera with handheld camerawork, muted colour grading, and a tiresome meandering spirit.

The death of Ronit’s (Rachel Weisz) father, a well-established Rabbi in his community, sets off this tale of, well, disobedience. When free-spirited, yet hot-headed Ronit returns to London for the funeral, she stays with one of her father’s protégés, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), where she is surprised to see he is married to one of her old friends, Esti (Rachel McAdams).

Although Ronit and Esti had a relationship in their teen years that was shunned by the community and had Ronit exiled, she decides to test the waters by staying with the couple at their house during her time in London, where she gradually teases open the romance between herself and Esti once again.

The desire of love and the adherence to a communal structure viciously fight against each other as Lelio tightens the tension on this conflict. He succeeds with situating this film and its characters amidst a Jewish setting, rendering most of the traditions on screen with respect. But all his idling around the thought-provoking themes of faith and its relation to sexuality seem vague, as if he just wants to experience the situation rather than build upon ideas around it. The film heads towards a half-formed and more didactic approach towards the end, with what’s supposed to be a rousing speech feeling more like the filmmaker just using a character as a mouth-piece.

Disobedience tries its hardest to crowd-please with its tale of forbidden love, but with hardly any spark in their relationship evident on screen, and with only a threadbare cinematic aesthetic to allure the audience deeper into this story of a so-called sin, Disobedience feels far less unconventional and against-the-grain than its simple one-word title suggests.

The strong acting from the three leads really fills up the characters, though it doesn’t make them, their convictions, or their back-stories any more believable. Lelio seems to feel inserting the strongest kind of conflict is good enough to make for an arresting drama, but the dialogue and story ought to have been as powerful as the acting to make this frustratingly flat film lift off the screen.