Tradition and Progress Collide in DISOBEDIENCE

A collection of great acting anchor this honest and sensitive religious drama.

Disobedience opens with the highly-respected Rabbi Krushka (Anton Lessar) reading from the Torah in a North London synagogue. The legendary Rabbi, one of the leading figures in a community mostly comprised of Orthodox Jews, is shown passionately reiterating some of the core beliefs of the faith before suddenly keeling over and dying. Besides being a hell of a way to open a movie, there could almost not have been a better method of introducing the story’s conflict as well as the deepness of faith within the community built around it. The sudden death of such a profound and highly-regarded figure speaks so much about the traditional ways in which the faith operated and the new world slowly taking over. It’s not just the death of a religious servant, but also the slow demise of the rigidness of the past and the new ways in which the world must learn to operate with respect to the faith.

Directed by Sebastian Lielo from the novel by Naomi Alderman, Disobedience tells the story of Ronit (Rachel Weisz), a successful New York photographer who returns back home to London following the death of her father, the aforementioned prominent Rabbi. However her return comes as a surprise due to the fact that Ronit and her father had a grave falling out with the latter disowning his daughter after the discovery of a lesbian affair between her and childhood friend Esti (Rachel McAdams). While most don’t know what to make of Ronit’s return, family friend Dovit (Alessandro Nivola) is the only one to extend her any kind of welcome; a gesture made slightly awkward when Ronit discovers he and Esti are now married.

Disobedience is ostensibly the story of how two women deal with self-realizations which go greatly against the foundations of their faith. From Ronit’s perspective, the only solution in dealing with the world she came from was to escape it; reinventing herself and trying to believe that she’s all the better for the ties having been cut. It’s no secret that her chosen profession deals with the act of capturing various shades of life, complexities and all; a stark contrast to the closed-off world of her faith. Because of the changes she’s undergone since leaving, Ronit is an instant outsider who doesn’t fit in when she returns to the world of her youth, being greeting with disapproval at every turn. The world she goes back to her sees her as a disruptor and doesn’t quite know what to do with her; likewise, she doesn’t know what to do with it. In spite of all the work she’s done to shed the shame and try to come into her own, she can’t help but feel judged by everyone, save for Esti, who re-awakens the feelings they once shared. If there is any unease in Ronit, it’s perhaps less to do with the way the community looks at her and more to do with the fact that on some level, the faith still means something. Even if Ronit herself doesn’t believe in it, she still feels its weight.

Although it takes a short while to view things from Esti’s perspective, seeing her world through her eyes is nothing short of powerful, even if she’s the less flashier character of the central pair. Looking at Esti is looking at someone who has spent her life stifling herself. Esti endures a respectful, yet loveless marriage, but has trained herself to find value and pleasure in the simplicity of her life. Yet there is something about Esti which suggests that she may in fact envy Ronit for her banishment. In her eyes, Ronit has escaped and has been free and clear to make a life on her own terms, exploring who she is. This is the total opposite of Esti’s choice to fit herself into the mold which both her faith and community dictate. When it’s revealed that Esti is the one who contacted Ronit about her father’s death (calling her back to the world she left), it raises a number of questions that each asks: Exactly who is Esti? Did she contact Ronit because it was simply the right thing to do? Did she contact her as a way to make her come and face the remnants of what she left behind (namely the love they shared)? Did she contact her as a call of rescue to help her escape from a life she could no longer endure? The answer, in fact, may be all of them.

The two lead actresses couldn’t have been more perfectly cast and play well opposite each other. Furthermore, the way they imbue their characters with the kind of under-the-surface emotion gives the film the strongest of credibility. Seeing Weisz try and hold true to the woman she’s become when faced with the unpleasantness of the past is as gripping as seeing McAdams slowly come to face the reality of the life she’s been living. Not to be outshadowed, Nivola superbly completes the trio as a man who has nothing but goodness in his heart, yet finds himself deeply conflicted with the life he made unraveling in front of him.

The film should be greatly heralded for the incredibly true depiction of the world shown in terms of sensibilities and values. The way people of the faith strongly embody their customs and mores while carefully keeping the outside world at arm’s length will be palpable to anyone who comes from a background rich in deep religion and culture. When Ronit finds herself back in the middle of it, her presence signifies more than just unfinished business; it powerfully signifies the worlds of tradition and progress colliding with the greatest of consequences which simply cannot be reversed.

Previous post Two Cents Breaks Out the McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce and Watches MULAN
Next post BLINDSIDED: THE GAME Pays American Indie Homage to ZATOICHI