Love is an act of defiance.

The question of whose disobedience, and what kind of disobedience it is, are at the heart of this absorbing and moving love story from Chilean director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria, A Fantastic Woman). 

Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola are at the top of their game, perhaps especially Nivola in a supporting role, achieving a sympathy and maturity not seen from him before.

Poster for the forbidden-romance drama DisobedienceThe drama takes place in the Orthodox Jewish community of north London. Weisz is Ronit, a young photographer living a fashionable and bohemian lifestyle in New York. Out of the blue, she receives news of the death of her estranged father, a much-respected rabbi, and her first impulse is to try to anesthetize the pain with drink and casual sex. But the truth must be faced up to, and a much-feared homecoming is necessary.

It was partly to escape the stifling rigidity of her father’s values that Ronit fled London for a secular life in New York in the first place: defiant, relishing freedom, but nursing a wound of guilt for breaking her father’s heart.

Back in London for the various ceremonies – the very epitome of religious observance and obedience that she had wanted to get away from – Ronit feels all eyes on her: curious, and disapproving, but in a way cowed by her connection with the revered religious leader. 

Weisz deftly conveys Ronit’s grief, her disorientation, and her borderline hysterical need to mock the pieties. She is disturbed most by two friends from the old days, from whom she senses a nervous disapproval. One is Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), her father’s favourite pupil, a virtual adopted son who is now a much admired young rabbi himself. The other is Esti, beautifully played by Rachel McAdams, who was Ronit’s only ally in youthful rebelliousness back in the day. But now Esti is married to Dovid, and Ronit is clearly shocked by how much older they seem, how much more conservative, how greater the gulf is between her and them, and by that token how much more intense her loneliness and grief feels.

But it is clear that Esti is not in fact so estranged from Ronit as first appeared, and this homecoming triggers a new independence of mind in Esti that makes everyone very uneasy.

– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian


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