Film: “Disobedience”; Director: Sebastian Lelio; Cast: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola; Rating: ***1/2
In an interview, the gorgeously lucid Rachel Weisz says she read up a lot of lesbian literature to get familiar with the world that her character inhabits on “Disobedience”. I’m not too sure if for the same director’s last film “A Fantastic Woman”, the lead player Daniela Vega had to do an equal amount of research to play her transgender character.
Daniela is a transgender in real life. Rachel Weisz is apparently not a lesbian woman. She is married to (former?) ‘James Bond’ Daniel Craig and sought to explore the theme of alternate sexuality in this dark disturbing and finally unfulfilling film about forbidden love.
The film is set in the Jewish part of London where everyone knows everyone else by name and also knows what is going in every neighbour’s bedroom. You can’t sneeze, let alone f**k without getting to know. Ronit (Rachel Weisz) had left this community in a flurry of scandal after her adolescent passion for a female friend Esti (Rachel McAdams) had shaken the convervative community.
A tragedy brings Ronit back to her home. As expected, the passionate romance between them is rekindled. There is a lengthy sequence wherein the two women walk down the semi-deserted street reliving the past. This episode is like a warm-up session out in the open in the streets. The ladies could very well abandon their veneer of civility right then and there and make love on one of the neatly laid-out residential lawns.
The film’s narrative moves back and draws in its breath with a mix of wonderment and dread to watch the two beautiful women fall in love again… ‘Fall’, we now know, is a word associated with love because somewhere two people in love write out their destiny of doom on the tomb of their mutual passion.
Chilean director Sebastian Lelio understands taboo emotions and forbidden passion better than he probably understands normal socially acceptable passion. We will know better when he does the normal. As Ronit and Esti rekindle a passion that never stopped burning, the film’s mood gets dark dense and tense.
Both the lead actresses are effortlessly articulate and adept at expressing feelings that are largely inexpressible, at least in terms of the love-language we see in cinema.
Weisz’s look of tormented anxiety rips through the plot, creating pockets of high drama even when the direction dips into a kind of bewildered pause. The surprise is the relatively new Rachel McAdams. She is tonally bang-on. In the sequence on a cramped staircase of her natural home where she pleads with her rabbi husband Dovid (Aleesandro Nuvolu, consistently credible in his kindness) as ‘houseguest’ Weisz watches, McAdams shows an admirable command over her character’s sexual confusion as it comes to fruition.
The two lead actress’ lingering love-making sequence, stripped of curiosity and filled with a knowledgeable ardour, would perhaps be impossible to get passed at the Indian censor board.
A pity, really. “Disobedience” is a film that needs to be seen for its non-judgmental searing and stumbling depiction of same-sex passion positioned in a cloistered, conservative community. In that sense, this film is the opposite of the other recent remarkable same-sex film “Call Me By Your Name” where the gay couple gets ample room to expand their mutual passion.
Cramped in suffocating pockets of traditional taboos, “Disobedience” is very effective as a film on sexual awakening but fails to tell us what comes after that awakening. In the end, the pregnant Esti gets her freedom from her husband.
But what would she do with that freedom? That’s where the director leaves us with a question mark. Perhaps all new beginnings are a little hazy and ambiguous.