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“Disobedience,” Sebastián Lelio’s follow-up to his 2017 Oscar-winning film “A Fantastic Woman,” and his first English-language film, starts with a Rabbi giving a sermon about free will. He speaks of angels, beasts, and Adam and Eve. He says, fearsomely, that humans are “free to choose.” Then he drops dead. There’s something refreshing about a story so unconcerned with “subtlety.” Put it all out there. Foreground the theme. Underline as you go. “Disobedience,” based on Naomi Alderman’s novel (with adaptation by Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz) is a good old-fashioned melodrama, albeit with a quieter touch. 
The rabbi who dropped dead was Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser), an important figure in the London Orthodox Jewish community. His daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz), a New York-based photographer, left years ago. When she returns home, she walks into the unchanged world of her childhood, looked at by relatives and former friends with curiosity and concern. She is rebelliously secular, with long free hair, cigarettes, short leather skirts. The obituary for her father states that “sadly” he had no children. It stings. She’s been gone so long she had no idea that Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), taken in by her father as a protégé at 13, and Esti, her childhood friend (Rachel McAdams) have gotten married. There’s an awkward moment in the kitchen when she makes the connection. The shock on Weisz’s face is eloquent, although we don’t know the backstory yet.

The eloquence of the performances is key to the material succeeding, since Lelio does not introduce the characters, and their connections, in a straightforward way. It takes some time before you figure out who Dovid is to Ronit, although from their behavior you can tell they once were close. She forgets herself and almost hugs him in a friendly greeting, and then laughs when he recoils from her touch. Dovid and Esti invite Ronit to stay with them during her time in London. This is playing with fire, since it soon becomes clear that Esti and Ronit had an adolescent romance, well-known to the community at the time. Lelio’s approach helps us feel we are thrust into the middle of a very tight-knit community, with a long shared history. Exposition is always awkward, so Lelio doesn’t bother with it at all. “Exposition” wouldn’t be spoken out loud in this crowd since everyone knows everything about everyone else. Dovid and Etsi don’t yet have children. She is a teacher in a girls school and enjoys her work. He is set to step into Rav Krushka’s sizable shoes. Ronit’s arrival throws everything into confusion.  Download for the full movie.









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