I was hesitant about watching a lesbian movie with two obviously straight actresses petting each other’s wigs for 120 minutes. But the local arthouse theater has discounts on Mondays, and I have a cold so Disobedience it is.
Following the death of her rabbi father, New York photographer, Ronit returns to her Orthodox Jewish community in London to pay her respects. She was kicked out years ago due to a fling she had with childhood friend, Esti (Rachel McAdams). Esti is now married to their mutual friend, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), who is poised to succeed Ronit’s father’s role as rabbi. Almost immediately after Ronit returns, she and Esti can’t keep their hands off each other, which lands them in hot water again. Naturally it’s super awkward for everyone.
Weisz and McAdams’s chemistry seems okay, when I wasn’t completely distracted by the latter’s weird British accent. There is so much restraint throughout the whole movie that when they finally have sex, it’s like a shaken can of soda in granny panties. At climax, the camera lingers on Esti’s face crying out in ecstasy and sadness, something she seems to have been holding in for over a decade. It’s like the saddest porno.
I love the bleak minimalism of this film. There’s never a break from the cool tones of the cinematography, not even at the height of our lovers’ passion as they spit in each others’ mouths. Probably because no matter where they hook up, Ronit and Esti can’t escape the patriarchal ownership of women’s bodies. Like Carol, it’s interesting that Ronit is a photographer, allowing us another lens through which to see her world and her paramour. However neither movie can escape the male gaze as both are directed by men, even if Carol’s Todd Haynes is openly gay. Ronit’s camera is also a symbol for her different perspective on the Orthodox Jewish community as an outsider looking in.
I appreciate the nuance of Dovid’s character. He is not necessarily the bad guy, rather a man torn between his loyalty to his friends and religion. What seems to drive him crazy is not Esti’s sexuality but her infidelity. Under the crushing weight of gender roles and heteropatriarchy, no one wins.
I didn’t realize until the credits rolled that this was based on a novel by Naomi Alderman. She gave a talk at my creative writing class in Buckingham four or five years ago. At lunch after class she talked about being mentored by Margaret Atwood. Anyway, she’s a super funny, cool lady and I feel really lucky to have met her.
Header image credit: Bleecker Street