Istanbul Film Festival ’18 Review: Disobedience

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(Rachel² in Disobedience)
Since it’s premiere at TIFF, “Disobedience” has been one of the films I’m most excited to see. After all, it’s not everyday that you see Rachel Weisz spitting into Rachel McAdams’ mouth in an Orthodox Jewish drama. By the director of this year’s Best Foreign Picture winner “A Fantastic Woman” Sebastián Lelio, “Disobedience” tells the story of two women’s desire for each other and their struggle of being who they are in a domineering Orthodox Jewish community. Ronit (Weisz), a photographer who lives a secular life in New York, returns to her community in London after the death of her father who is a rabbi. Upon her return she finds out her two childhood friends Esti (McAdams) and Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) got married and the sparks from her old relationship with Esti are still there. Ronit and Esti’s rediscovery of their desire becomes a problem for the community and Dovid, who is to take Ronit’s father’s place as rabbi. The film opens with rabbi’s speech on free will which shortly becomes his last words and one of the main themes of the film. Despite some flaws, “Disobedience” is a great film about empowerment and complex relationship between one’s self and community with wonderful performances by Rachel² and Nivola.

The film’s shining performance belongs to McAdams whose every expression and movement, no matter how tiny they are, marks a step in Esti’s shift from who she is supposed to be, a good straight Jewish wife, to who she desires to be. We witness Esti open up like a flower immedietly after her kiss with Ronit. Her face, often stoic and greyish up to that point, seems more lively. The dullness of her conversations are replaced with exchanged jokes. One of the best scenes in the film is one that happens right after they have sex. Esti, not wearing her wig, smiles and poses for Ronit’s camera. Her uptight posture is gone, and she has the air of relaxation of a woman who is free from some of the weight she’s been carrying. And Esti and Ronit’s desire for each other, while mutual, are different in their desperateness. It’s harder to portray a desire that’s supposed to be hidden, that has been waiting, but McAdams excels at it.

The film’s dull and neutral colours with the chilling score creates a juxtaposition that is a perfect allegory of the oppressiveness of the community and internal turmoils of the characters. The greyness of London and the interiors are suffocating while Matthew Herbert’s score suggests there is something more than it meets the eye. It’s an anxiety creating contrast that serves the story wonderfully.

One of the things about the film that captured my attention was the physical similarities between Weisz and McAdams at times. With their hollow cheecks, brown hair and paler than normal looks, they seemed almost like the same person. The shots in which we see them from behind, or kissing, if it wasn’t for their height difference, I’d have hard time telling them apart. In my own interpretation, I think this added to the sense that Esti and Ronit are two sides of the same coin. One who escaped from the community and the one who stayed behind, and one could easily be the other if they made different choices. The film is a journey for both women who have to overcome the consequences of the choices they made a long time ago. Ronit who chose to left, has to learn how to accept being a dissappointment to her father and the community, while Esti has to decide if she wants to stay the same or have her freedom. The ending(s) is one of the weaker parts of the film cause there are more than one, trying to tie all the loose ends and not quite succeding at it. [Spoiler from now on]

But one of the successes of the ending is that Esti and Ronit don’t end up together. Both women serve a part, whether that be support or an epiphany, in the other one’s journey and go on to their different ways which we do not know of. Ronit’s suggestion to Esti about going back to New York with her is not mentioned at the end. We do not see why that decision is made, but are left to assume. While this may be frustrating for some viewers, my interpretation is that both women know that while they played a significant part in each other’s lives, their future does not lie together and that doesn’t lessen the value of their experience. Esti has a whole life of freedom ahead of her and Ronit is free of the burdens of her community.

Disobedience comes out in US on April 27th and in UK on September 28th.

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