Disobedience

Tom’s Rating: 510Lucy’s Rating: 510 (+1 for any film including Rachel Weisz).

Disobedience is the tale of an orthodox Jewish community in London. When an influential Rav dies, his banished daughter must return for the funeral rites. Amid her grief, she once again falls in tumultuous love with the same woman who led to her original exile. A great plot!

Unfortunately, despite its promise, Disobedience fell flat on its face. For a narrative steeped in religious, cultural and romantic sensitivities, it failed to deliver the depth that such a story deserved. The film could not decide whether it was a heart-wrenching tale of forbidden love, or a gritty introspection of a religious community and competing commitments. In its ambiguity, it was neither.

Rachel Weisz’s character Ronit was oh-so-achingly predictable in her renegade role as an adopted-New Yorker, complete with cropped leather jacket and a career photographing tattooed geriatrics. Dovid, played by Allesandro Nivola, on the other hand, was neither sufficiently antagonistic, driven by his commitment to his faith, nor adequately conflicted to motivate any real emotion from the audience. Both characters sat in this purgatory of being crucial yet so uninteresting.

Rachel McAdams, as Esti, partially redeemed the ensemble. She alone seemed to give her character any real believability. When she discusses the Rav’s method to “cure” her sexual preferences, or when she drudgingly defends her trolley, or in the moment she is caught kissing Ronit, she emanates the sort of resigned oppression that makes the plot so alluring. You feel for Esti in a way that you do not for Weisz’s character.

But McAdams cannot make up for the clumsy storyboard. The first third of this film drags - a slow toe-dipping exercise into the orthodox community that only barely hints at any romantic love story. Then comes the rapidly accelerating intimacy between Esti and Ronit, and ensuing fallout between Esti and Dovid. But this resolves so quickly, that you are left wondering how to feel. Was Dovid as coerced into the strictures of what is “right” and “wrong” as Esti and Ronit? Or has he simply given in? No screen time is devoted to answering these questions, instead this complicated love-triangle is resolved with a group hug. I’m not kidding.

And then it goes on, for five or six more scenes. Each time you think the film is ending, it doesn’t. It could have finished at the hug, but you then wake up to a fleeting glimpse of the new dynamic between Dovid and Esti. Ronit says goodbye, but does she? Then she drives off, but soon diverts the taxi. Given how quickly the film dissipated its narrative tensions, these scenes did nothing but frustrate. Again, that nagging question returns: what did director Alfonso CuarĂ³n want this film to be?

Disobedience was a let down, in all honesty. The trailer billed it as the sort of sensitive and complicated story that a director, and audience, can indulge in. Instead, it delivered a film that jerked between painfully slow exposition, ridiculously shallow resolution, and five final scenes too many. In trying to do too many things, it did little at all. A real shame.