Film Review: Disobedience

Director and co-writer Sebastián Lelio’s Disobedience is skilfully crafted, with great performances from its leads.

Ronit returns to the Jewish orthodox community that shunned her several years before. In town for a funeral, Ronit reconnects with an old friend. Passion reignites for the pair in unlikely circumstances…

Directed by Sebastián Lelio with a screenplay by Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Disobedience is based on a novel by Naomi Alderman. The film is set in a North London Jewish orthodox community, which offers both a sense of belonging and claustrophobia. Lelio is measured with his direction, and Disobedience is a better film for this.

The story works thanks to its compelling characters. The narrative establishes choices to be made by the each of three main characters. Lelio takes his time in developing these three main characters, giving each of these enough to struggle with. Both Rachel and Esti must confront the choice they made in their adolescence. Whilst Rachel left the community and created a life in New York, Esti chose to adhere to the community’s customs and expectations. Disobedience depicts the drawbacks of both of their choices, as they reflect on the past. Dovid meanwhile grapples with the weight of expectation, and the impact of his private life on his public standing.

As the narrative progresses, tensions become fraught. Yet Lelio continues with his controlled approach to storytelling; the film never descends into melodrama. Instead the characters and their decisions feel authentic. Lelio never judges the community too harshly, instead offering a multifaceted view of this strand of Judaism. The muted palette emphasises the film’s authenticity. Rachel Weisz is as strong as ever as Ronit. Both Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola are also great in their respective roles.

Disobedience is a story of forbidden love, yet one that is delivered with nuance, with control, and with reflection. An engaging and thought-provoking watch.