When Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) travels from New York City to the North London Jewish Orthodox community for her father's funeral, her childhood friend Rabbi Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola) receives her oddly. There is a hush as she enters his home full of mourners, although a few, including her Uncle Moshe (Allan Corduner), murmur the standard sentiment 'May you live a long life.' One of those is Esti (Rachel McAdams), the best friend Ronit is astonished to learn has married Dovid. As Ronit navigates the land mines of her former life, we will learn she and Esti were united in "Disobedience."
Laura's Review: B-
Fresh off his Foreign Language Film Oscar win for "A Fantastic Woman," cowriter (with Rebecca Lenkiewicz)/director Sebastián Lelio makes his English language debut with another story about women on the fringes, this time examining the quandary of one woman whose sexual orientation is forbidden by the community which she loves. That woman is not Ronit, who rebelled against patriarchal Orthodoxy, but Esti, the lover she left behind. Ronit was Rav Krushka's (Anton Lesser) daughter, Dovid his 'spiritual son.' Ronit, Dovid and Esti were all best friends growing up, until, as we soon learn, the Rav came across his daughter in a compromising situation with Esti. Ronit packed up and left for New York, where she took on the professional name of Ronnie Curtis as a portrait photographer. She maintained no contact with her father, but is still shocked when she realizes how completely she's been excised from her former life. A newspaper obituary notes Rav Krushka had no children. But Esti embraced her community and the Rav advised marriage as a way to 'fix' her. Who better than this wonderful man, Dovid, who so obviously adores her? Esti wears a sheitel, the wig Orthodox married women wear to conceal their hair out of modesty, and plain dark clothing, loves her job teaching at the local school and grits her teeth for the sexual obligations of her marriage. She believes she is happy, until Ronit's arrival stirs the pot. While Dovid may not have been expecting his old friend to show up at his door, he is kind, going so far as to invite the controversial woman to stay at his and Esti's home, a bold move from the man slated to take over the Rav's role as the community's spiritual leader. Ronit is still concerned by Esti's restrained welcome, asking her if she should stay. At first Esti is dismissive. Then she kisses Ronit, before withdrawing in confusion. At their Shabbat, everyone expresses interest in Ronit's New York life. She is asked why she's changed her name and it is Esti who comes to her defense, igniting a small shockwave when she states that women do this every day when they marry, adding that their histories are then wiped out. Uncle Moshe, already flustered by Ronit's attempts to discuss the business of selling her father's house, refutes her claim only to have his wife, Aunt Fruma (Bernice Stegers), note its truth. Fruma also mentions that Ronit must take her late mother's silver candlesticks. Perhaps this was a subtle tipoff, as Ronit learns in Moshe's office that her father has not left his house to her, but the synagogue. When she and Esti go to remove personal items, The Cure's 'Lovesong' comes on the radio (Lelio has exhibited a tendency to be heavy handed in his musical choices) and their desire overcomes them. Later, in public, a stolen kiss is witnessed and reported by community member Hannah Shapiro (Caroline Gruber). Lelio shows great compassion for his characters with his adaptation of Naomi Alderman's novel, but one comes away thinking this situation should have created more fireworks than it does here. Think of the more severe looks at Jewish Orthodoxy seen in films like "Menashe" and Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's 2017 Netflix documentary "One of Us." Interest in the film has largely been focused on an explicit sex scene between Ronit and Etsi after Ronit suggests they leave the stifling environment of their community for a London hotel, a beautiful and tastefully executed passage that opens Esti's eyes to her own truth. Yet it is difficult to get a handle on Ronit's true feelings about Esti, especially as we've witnessed her having anonymous sex with a man in New York. Weisz's stunning and worldly Ronit seems reluctant to commit. Instead, the emphasis at film's conclusion is on the marriage and Nivola navigates Dovid's emotions with tortured grace, ironically using Rav Krushka's sermon from the film's opening scene to come to its humanistic conclusion. The film leaves us wondering just how Esti plans to move forward while Ronit makes peace with her late father. Director of photography Danny Cohen ("Room") is adept at shooting in tight interior spaces, here opening up to a largely monochromatic world, New York scenes mostly at night, London cool and gray. Composer Matthew Herbert's ("A Fantastic Woman") edgy modern classical score complements the film's dramatic clash. Male voices harmonize angelically in synagogue set scenes, underscoring the beauty of tradition. Grade: