Disobedience, based on the novel of the same name by Naomi Alderman, gracefully explores themes of freedom, choice, and sexuality in the context of religion and culture. The film follows the life of Ronit, the estranged daughter of Rav Krushka, who returns to her Orthodox Jewish community in London upon his death.
There she reunites with childhood friends Esti and Dovid, soon realizing that they have married in her absence. This creates an instant air of tension, one which is present throughout most of the film as Ronit attempts to adjust to her family’s conventional ways and their quiet disapproval of her life as a New York photographer.
Lelio’s choice to make Ronit a photographer strays from the novel but offers a cinematic charm, as many of the scenes are portrayed as though looking through an old-fashioned camera lens while Ronit snaps photos of the world and people around her.
Later in the film, it is revealed that Ronit and Esti had been in a romantic relationship as teenagers. While in the late rabbi’s house, they reminisce about being caught by him in their youth, and share an awkward laugh.
Perhaps one of the most poignantly beautiful parts of the film is when Ronit turns on the radio, and the sound of the Cure’s Lovesong fills the room as the two silently nod along to it. This almost seems like an intrusion, a surprising display of modernity in the rabbi’s otherwise traditional home that looks as though it has not been changed for decades.
Surrounded by Torahs and other Jewish texts, they kiss but seem to immediately regret it. Their ill-fated tryst is further intensified by the fact that Dovid has been chosen as a successor of Rav Krushka, placing them under even more scrutiny, and when he starts to suspect that the two have resumed their relationship, the tension can be cut with a knife.
My one grievance with this film concerns the ability of a man to direct an erotic scene between two women. At one point, Ronit and Esti run away to a hotel after other teachers at Esti’s school discover their relationship. While I have heard some people praise this scene as being beautifully sensual, I find it hard to associate spitting into your lover’s mouth with any form of sensuality. It seemed like a weak attempt to give the scene an edge that it frankly did not need. But the overall chemistry and passion between Weisz and McAdams was lovely; the rough New York attitude of Ronit’s character simply paired well with the meek and hesitant Esti.
The film concludes with some beautiful chanting of the Torah and a powerful oration by Dovid. There are also several last-minute plot twists that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Provocative, heartbreaking, and hopeful, Disobedience questions what it means to be free to choose.