May 31, 2018

A gently-told story of love between two women and the community that disallows it.


Grade: B+

Director: Sebastian Lelio (A Fantastic Woman)

Screenplay: Lelio, Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida), from Naomi Alderman novel

Cast: Rachel Weisz (The Lobster), Rachel McAdams (Red Eye)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 54 min

by John DeSando

The London Orthodox Jewish community in Disobedience is not so much oppressive as it is true to its beliefs, be they Torah-related or just a conservative community’s reserve. Unlike other depictions of closed worlds in film, Chilean Director Sebastian Lelio’s world, in his first English-language film, is a difficult place to navigate around, as estranged daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz) has long known.

It’s not that she left London for New York to become an edgy photographer; it’s that her affair with Esti (Rachel McAdams) had no place in the narrow confines of Jewish family life. Having been close friends with the estimable Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and Esti, she returns for her father’s funeral to find the two married and her old feelings for Esti not so old.

Disobedience is the kind of low-key, almost somber drama that moves slowly but not inexorably to a pat conclusion. The triangular characters are gently jostled between love for each other, the expression of that love, and the strictures of the community.

The complexity if this fine film is that the struggle is not just for sexual freedom; it’s for freedom of choice, in this case for the ladies to love each other, or Eti to stay with her husband, or not. Layering over the emotions with ideas of freedom is a way Lelio makes his drama more than just steam.

Yet if you want to see two  lovely actresses simulating lesbian lovemaking, this is the sophisticated porn for you. It’s delicately done with cutaways and artful angles that suggest rather than depict. 

No one will become rich making this languid, serious romance, but they will be artistically rewarded for making a beautiful romance that defies conventions:

Ronit : “Esti, do you think I should go back early?” Esti : “No... no. No, I don't think you should leave at all.”

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at