Disobedience - These Actresses Rock, This Movie Less So
Dir: Sebastian Lelio
Starring Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola
This is a film of hushed silences and shared expressions of longing. Of strong central performances and strong atmosphere. And of a script that is unfortunately too rote to match the quality lent to it.
Weisz is a photographer in New York exile from her roots in the orthodox Jewish community of North London. The death of her father, a noted and highly respected rabbi, forces her to face up to her past and return home – and all the brain-deadening alcohol and emotionless casual sex the Big Apple has to offer can’t help her delay the inevitable.
Once back on home soil, her status as a woman, a shamed woman no less who left (over reasons that will become apparent) instantly undermines all that she has become on the outside world, and her plan is to show respect and make a quick getaway. Until she finds herself drawn to McAdams’ Esti, her childhood friend, now married to Nivola’s up and coming rabbi (another old friend.) As the two women reconnect they find themselves inexorably opening up to the physical attraction that was previously there between then (and which may well have played a part in Weisz’ departure), something that threatens to upend both established relationships and long held values.
The film’s real strengths lie in its central performances. Weisz is both rebellious and desperate to escape some form of servitude she still can’t help but feel beholding to, Nivolo is powerfully understated as a deeply committed man forced to examine his own values, but it is probably McAdams who impresses the most as a woman both on the cusp of change, and moving beyond it (in more ways that one.) They are all eminently watchable, but as palpable as the milieu Lelio creates for them is, it feels a place as much of cliché as ritual. The Orthodoxy of North London comes across as contrived when stymied would be enough. The dialogue often also lands with an equally heavy hand.
When the cast – especially Weisz and McAdams – just look at each other, unable to say the things that should be spoken, that is where the film finds its real strength.
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