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TORONTO 2017 Special Presentations

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Disobedience: A passion for freedom


- TORONTO 2017: Sebastián Lelio delivers a slow-burning drama that follows the aftermath of passion between the lead characters, portrayed by Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams

Disobedience: A passion for freedom
Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz in Disobedience

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio was thrust into the spotlight after his fourth film, Gloria [+see also:
film profile
, which premiered and was awarded at the Berlinale in 2013. Four years later, this February, Lelio returned to Berlin with another highly acclaimed film, A Fantastic Woman [+see also:
film review
film profile
, which won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay. Disobedience [+see also:
film profile
 is his sixth feature, his first to be shot in English, and it premiered in the Special Presentations section of the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival.

Ronit (Rachel Weisz) has spent years away from her Orthodox Jewish community in London, but she is now forced to return after the death of her rabbi father. There, she will meet up with her old friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) again, her father’s spiritual son and the successor to his legacy, and to her surprise, she will discover that he’s married to her childhood friend Esti (Rachel McAdams). When Ronit decides to extend her stay, she will discover that Esti still carries a torch for her, as they were once lovers. Esti needs to explore the limits of freedom – or the consequences of disobeying the rules.

Disobedience is a slow-burning drama that needs its own time to evolve and offer the requisite tension. Based on the novel by British author Naomi Alderman,the project was initially undertaken by Weisz, who also serves as co-producer, along with Frida Torresblanco and Ed Guiney. Lelio worked on the adaptation with acclaimed playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz, and the film feels quite close to the topics that the director has explored in the past.

With its two female lead characters, Disobedience plays with their perfectly antithetic but complementary relationship. Ronit is outgoing, loud and seems quite conventional by any “modern” standards, but she’s a true rebel in the eyes of her Orthodox community. Her lifestyle is not accepted, as it doesn’t align with Torah laws, and she is a dishonour to her highly respected rabbi father figure. On the other hand, Esti is shy, introverted and has resolved to keep everything inside her in order to remain faithful to her husband and the community. She must fight with herself, her conscience and, more importantly, a hidden sexual identity that is conquering her, as she burns up because of her suppressed passions. Esti is trapped between her true homosexual nature and her imposed religious identity, which Ronit decided to reject a long time ago. It’s a battle between two different perceptions that Dovid, as a secondary, tragic figure, is forced to observe and endure as the drama unfolds.

Lelio has successfully delivered a film that is technically perfect and undisputedly visually impressive thanks to Danny Cohen’s cinematography, which expands the boundaries of the enclosed environment where the story is set, as his camerawork both captures the characters and sets them free, as is the case in the exceptional sex scene. However, despite the excellent premise and the engaging performances, there is a constant lack of engagement with the story, as it doesn’t deliver to the extent that it aims to. At some points, the narration seems more fragmented than needed, leading to a drier result that diverts the viewer’s attention away from the escalating drama. Disobedience could have been a powerful film owing to its subject matter, but the emotional refinement present in Lelio’s previous works is just not there.

Disobedience is a UK-US-Irish co-production by Film4Element Pictures and Braven Films, and the international sales are handled by the USA’s FilmNation Entertainment.

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