SIFF 2018 Edition: Disobedience

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Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz. Photo courtesy of SIFF

When I watched Sebastián Lelio’s previous film, A Fantastic Woman, the earth moved. With Disobedience, there were only slight rumblings. Films, like music, need a thread to tie them together from beginning to end, whether it be through story, images, sounds, dialog, or a repeating motif. There is such a thread in Disobedience, but it often thins to nothing, pricking the viewer with its needle.

A rabbi (Anton Lesser) passes away. The daughter (Rachel Weisz) is called back home. We sense something is amiss. There is a coldness to those who welcome her back. The society she left is a conservative Jewish one. Married women wear wigs outside the bedroom. Men do not touch women not their wives. Couples have sex every Friday. The synagogue is segregated: women sit in the balcony, men sit below.

Most of the surprise of what will happen has been spoiled by advance press concerning Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams’s love scene together. The film wants to be Call Me By Your Name for women, but the complexity of its subject would seem more at home in a novel, where each character could be given her own chapter. Despite terrific acting, I never felt completely connected to these people, or felt that Esti (McAdams) would pine after Ronit (Weisz) without finding love elsewhere, however briefly. Call Me By Your Name was based on a novel, and yet fleshed out its characters more.

But is that what the movie’s about? Take note of the opening. The soon-to-be-deceased rabbi is giving a sermon on God’s creation. He mentions that the angels are perfect, and so are incapable of sin, since they cannot choose to be sinners. The beasts also do not sin, as they follow what’s in their nature, and their nature was chosen by God. Only humans are given the freedom to choose. Is this, then, its message? That we have the freedom to choose? Choose our partners, our communities, our lives? Certainly it doesn’t mean choosing our sexuality, for that if that were the case, the movie would’ve ended differently, and I would’ve stormed out of the theater. Nor is it about choosing acceptance, for the Jewish community in this film cannot accept homosexuality any more than it can accept other deviations from its traditions.

So the thread breaks and the pattern unravels, and we cannot see where the needle has gone. While this is still a solid film in its camera work, imagery, acting, and script, it does not shake the heavens, nor does it stir the heart.

Now playing at AMC Seattle 10, which used to be Sundance Cinemas, which used to be the Metro. Also playing at AMC Pacific Place.

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