Don’t you just hate it when you pop your clogs in the middle of your Derasha? We’ve all been there. Disobedience begins with a death of a Rabbi in the midst of said circumstances, but his daughter Ronit (portrayed by Rachel Weisz) is the locus. All jokes aside, director Sebastián Lelio captures her grief without pomp or ceremony, and the film’s slow opening moments are the far better for it; the camera drifts in her path like an ice-cube slowly melting. Soon, the Rabi’s opening speech becomes prescient, his warnings on the impermanence of life, on choosing to lead one that is either straightforward or tangled mutates into a paean lived out by the film’s characters. Make no mistake: this is hardly the uplifting Christmas film you may have been looking for, but as a realist take on forbidden love it thrives.
Weisz and McAdams’s first interaction sees them drawn together by funereal circumstances and the film from this point onwards retains its flattened tone. Anybody familiar with its marketing will no doubt be familiar with the central relationship (that of the two Rachels), and Lelio should be commended for his ability to draw out the passion in these women’s performances without upending the piece’s languid nature. Of course, credit must be paid to Weisz and McAdams, who tread the line between action and passivity whilst managing to navigate the complicated relationship between pleasure and guilt. What occurs is a perfect marriage between director and performers; Lelio’s ability to accent this passion, yet also construct a work that is markedly dispassionate in its gaze, allows the film to eschew fetishisation whilst remaining true to its theme.
“while the film touts the themes of free will and the luxury of individual liberation, where it perhaps falls short is in its failure to fully embrace these characters”
Temporally, passion is elongated throughout the film, beginning with glances and snowballing into eroticism. But by retaining a muted colour palette, the themes that we are warned about at the start of the film – acquiescing to the sin of sexual pleasure – can be indulged whilst remaining firmly under their religious umbrellas. At the same time, this religion is never depicted as repressive; though love must gestate privately it never erupts beyond, you guessed it, Disobedience. Plaudits must be paid, too, to Matthew Herbert’s excellent score, which seems to sit above the film as opposed to bubbling away beneath it: the panpipes operate somewhere between hope and longing, creating another umbrella for the film’s characters to scurry beneath. And this scurrying is a choice word; while the film touts the themes of free will and the luxury of individual liberation, where it perhaps falls short is in its failure to fully embrace these characters’ ability to drive their own destiny.
They remain stuck in the bubble of the film’s own diegesis, trapped, tragic, although their situations could, and should, perhaps, be risen above. For all its deftly carried out storytelling, there remains a slight but persistent incongruence between the film’s spoken message and its lingering impression. But then, after all, perhaps that is part of what makes it so affecting.