Starring Rachel Weisz. Rated 14A
A fine cast is humbled by a too-terse script, plodding direction, and dull cinematography. In fact, all the intentions on display in Disobedience would seem to be part of a much better movie than the finished product turned out to be.
Rachel Weisz helped produce the two-hour effort, in which she plays Ronit Krushka, a free-spirited New York City photographer called back to London when her estranged father, a famous rabbi, dies while giving an impassioned sermon about—what else?—loyalty and free will. The settings are vaguely presented, probably to heighten the symbolic nature of the characters, and perhaps to underline the universality of Orthodox communities in different countries.
Ronit has been written out of the rabbi’s will, and his life. The late Rav Krushka seemingly switched his parental guidance to Dovid (cast standout Alessandro Nivola), a gentle, scholarly fellow taken into their household when Ronnie was still at home. For a while, you think they must have had a thing, but she was actually more attached to Dovid’s new wife, Esti (Rachel McAdams). This may have been the reason the daughter left in the first place. For this visit, she stays at their place, which sets off some furious tut-tutting from the black-clad, wig-wearing community. And not without reason, since Esti is pretty sure she doesn’t want Ronit to leave again.
Most of the conflict here is self-imposed, as it tends to be in repressively fundamentalist societies. With men and women so scrupulously segregated in most aspects of life, and so many rules to remember, it’s hard for an outsider to see what the attraction of staying might be—at least in the hands of Chilean director Sebastián Lelio, working in English for the first time. Adapting Naomi Alderman’s semiautobiographical novel, he fashioned the script with Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who also cowrote the Polish-language, convent-set Ida, which had a more convincing feel for the tug of war between spirit and politics.
Lelio previously had international successes with Gloria and A Fantastic Woman, which won last year’s Oscar for best foreign-language film. Both feature very thinly drawn leads who rebel against circumstances by smoking a lot and hooking up with strange men in awkward circumstances (ah, cursed freedom!), as Ronit does here, briefly. This shorthand leaves the actors hanging, and does few favours for Weisz, whose character here is, unusually for her, quite colourless. Some scenes with McAdams crackle a bit, and then the movie settles back into a grey, static pallor.
Currently, Lelio is directing a remake of Gloria with Julianne Moore in the title role. What brand of cigarettes do you think she prefers?