The stunning “Disobedience” takes on freedom and desire with aplomb

I’ll admit it: my expectations for Disobedience were high. Actress and producer Rachel Weisz spent time and energy searching for a project that would have meaty and compelling roles for two women, and she landed on Naomi Alderman‘s tale of a forbidden love between two Orthodox Jewish women. The book is strong source material, and what Weisz, co-stars Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola, and director Sebastián Lelio have created is quite truly a marvel.

Weisz stars as Ronit, the estranged daughter of a beloved rabbi in a town outside of London. When her father dies, Ronit returns to her hometown where she receives an icy reception from pretty much everyone but her childhood friend, Dovid (Nivola). Ronit’s shocked to learn that the love of her youth, Esti (an absolutely spectacular McAdams) is now married to Dovid, and has been carrying around the pain of Ronit’s abandonment (and her own repressed lesbianism) for years.

It doesn’t take long for the chill to melt between the women, and their connection sets into motion a series of decisions and desires that will change everything for the trio of friends.

While the story starts off being about Ronit, and coming from her perspective, it manages to shift to Esti’s journey about halfway through. While Ronit moved to the US after she and Esti were caught together, Esti had to stay behind and fill the role that was expected of her. I can’t emphasize enough how fantastic McAdams is in this role. She tackles Esti with such tenderness, and as Esti’s walls come tumbling down, McAdams breaks through. A criminally underrated actress, I hope that McAdams picks up a nomination for this performance because it is most heartily deserved.

Weisz is also wonderful, and to her credit, knows when and how to let other actors shine. Weisz also wanted to make sure that this film was given a lot of female perspectives, and even joined director Lelio in editing the film’s infamous love scene.

So yes, let’s touch on the love scene because if you’ve heard anything about the film, you’ve probably heard about the spitting scene. Here’s what I would like to add. Have you ever wanted someone so badly that you wanted every part of them? Every atom? That you could join your hearts as one? That’s what this scene feels like to me. There is a tendency to highly critique any same-sex love scenes, and there’s a reason for that: we don’t have all that many of them! However, there’s also a tendency to say that something isn’t right because it might not be the norm for us personally. I’d ask you to take in this scene for yourself and remember that for Esti, Ronit is the person she’s held in her heart, her bones, for years.

When it comes to mainstream LGBTQ films, we are still woefully short on content. We hold tight to films like Moonlight and Carol because when a film does come along that hits the right notes, it feels like a blessing. Disobedience is one of those films. There’s a lot of care involved, from the choices the actors make to the way Lelio frames his shots, to the change of the book’s ending to allow for some hope. Hope is intoxicating. Freedom is divine. Disobedience gives its characters and its viewers both.

Disobedience opens today in New York and LA, then in select cities starting May 4th. It gets a nationwide release on May 18th.

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