In March, Sebastián Lelio won an Oscar for his movie about a Chilean transwoman coping with an inquiry after the death of her boyfriend. And now a few months later, he’s rolled out his English language debut: an Orthodox Jewish lesbian drama set in a cold outskirt of London. Sebastián Lelio is a man to watch, it seems, for his dedication to putting fascinating female identities on screen.
Though Disobedience is probably Rachel Weisz’s movie as much as his. She was the one who first approached the author of the original novel about adapting it, and continued to serve as a producer on the project as well as one of the leads. She shares the billing with Rachel McAdams, in something of a pleasant surprise: initially it seems that Weisz’s character is the central role, but the film gently expands to become as much about Esti as Ronit. It’s probably no surprise at all that the two of them, both lovely empathetic actors, balance focus between them with grace and give. And it’s remarkable that for all that their stories are shaped by each other, both women have their own personal narratives they’re working through as well. They both get quiet, unhurried scenes by themselves, just processing, existing, contextualizing who they are in this world, who they could have been or still could be.
The very first thing you hear in this movie, while the opening credits are still slipping off, is a horn, a shofar. In the darkness it sounds sooo ancient. It also sounds like something flung out of space. You know I was originally going to make a 2001 reference here but it seems I’m making a Carol reference instead! It does actually remind me of Carol, in feel. They’re both stories about women loving women where so much is done in glance and bend. The kinds of films people call subtle, which is how you say ‘slow’ when you like that it is. Disobedience has its own pace, set in a community with rhythms that stretch back millennia. Watching Ronnie adjust her tempo to it when she comes back is wonderful; watching Esti come into harmony against her is why you buy your ticket.
And because we’re all making this joke, yes there is a sex scene that will, literally, snatch your wig. My audience was into it. My audience was two elderly men and about a dozen women, in singles or in pairs, and I knew we were a community when after about half an hour of respectful, quiet movie-watching, we all just lost it at a hilariously awkward Shabbat dinner. To my matinee gals: we’ll always have ‘Lovesong’.