Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Review: The "Disobedience" of The Rachels

After watching (seemingly) endless clips and enduring (seemingly) endless debates about what exactly sensual spitting entrails, I have now seen “Disobedience.” If you are looking for a fun or even remotely playful film (à la “Imagine Me & You” or “Saving Face”) this is not that lesbian movie. Nor is this the kind of lesbian movie that’s a gorgeous period piece with a sumptuous score, angels flung out of space, or Cate Blanchett (but alas, all movies without Cate Blanchett suffer from not having Cate Blanchett).

But if you are looking for something that explores, in depth, a strict, insular religion, which binds those in it together in unspoken and unquestioned ways, “Disobedience” is the movie for you. The film’s central triumvirate is Rachel Weisz’s free-spirited Ronit (who has left her small Orthodox Jewish community), Rachel McAdams’ Esti (who stayed behind) and Alessandro Nivola’s Dovid (who became the protégée of Ronit’s rabbi father and married Esti after she left). The trio were childhood friends, the history between them in palpable.

Now you could look at what transpires in “Disobedience,” when Ronit returns unexpectedly after her father’s death to the community she escaped to face the people she left behind, in one of two ways. One, it’s a fascinating look into a closed community that rarely invites outsiders in and whose deep faith dictates their every move. Or two, a claustrophobic look at what closed communities that rarely invite outsiders in and whose deep faith dictates their every move.

As a person who grew up in a non-religious household, I found the focus on this devout community and its rigid rules for nearly everything (touching someone of the opposite gender, women’s hair, fedora worship) to be stifling. But I can completely understand if you came from a similarly devout background that you would connect inherently to the film’s themes. The pressure and influence it can exert over, again, everything in a person’s life is very real. The search for something higher or more meaningful in life, whatever that may be, is nearly universal.

The acting is, unsurprisingly, superb. I’ll never understand why Rachel Weisz isn’t a bigger movie star. And Rachel McAdams, well she disappears (and I mean that in a good way) completely into Esti and her wig. You can feel Esti’s longing for Ronit down to the bone.

And now, onto that sex scene. I’ll admit, I did not enjoy the spitting – as relatively minor as it was. I understand, everyone has their kink and mean no kink shame. But it felt misplaced without some context. Are we supposed to believe this is something they did together when they were younger, perhaps even before their sexual relationship began? Probably, a lot is left unsaid and we are meant to fill in the gaps.

It should be noted that according to people who have read the book there is no spitting scene, which makes it read less like a childhood remembrance and more like something the director thought would be sexy. If it works for you, that’s cool.

The complex push-pull of obligation, desire and basic human decency are undeniably well done in “Disobedience.” But I couldn’t help feeling like I was watching in a room without enough air, but with plenty of windows just waiting to be opened. It’s a reminder of the things we will accept instead of true freedom and happiness.


Carmen SanDiego said...

I’m so happy you’re reviewing this!
“I understand, everyone has their kink and mean no kink shame. But it felt misplaced without some context. ”
Perfectly put! They could have easily edit that out and not miss a beat. It’s there for no reason...
Growing up in a secular family I didn’t identify a lot of the religious dogmas and thought it was all very oppressive. Dovid came across as a jerk (you didn’t bother to inform Ronit? Really?)
This is probably not gonna be something I’ll watch again but I’m glad it exists

Carol Schaefer said...

Good review. I did read the book. Glad I did not grown up in that world. Sorrow for the women.

FASTTCR said...

Saw Disobedience today. This DS review was the first that inspired my interest beyond thinking of it purely as a lesbian film with lesbian sex/spitting. I chose to approach it with fascination vs. allowing claustrophobia to set it. And it was so much better than I imagined it would be. It is the first time that my emotional reaction to the man caught up in this situation was my strongest reaction. I felt so much for Dovid it surprised me. Each of the characters was flawed and thoughtful and real. It is definitely a movie I'd recommend and will see again.