I very much enjoyed director Sebastian Lelio’s recent work A Fantastic Woman, about a transgender woman whose lover dies and whose family does everything they can to keep her from their rituals of mourning. That made me eager to see his new work, Disobedience. The theme of this film is the return of a New York photographer to her Orthodox Jewish roots in London to honor the death of her father, a noted rabbi. As an adolescent, Ronit had a lesbian encounter with another girl in the community, Esti. As is the case with all tightly knit groups, everyone knew. Ronit returns to find Esti married to their friend Dovid. Dovid invites Ronit to stay with them — the community is clearly uneasy with Ronit’s return — and the relationship between Ronit and Esti is kindled anew.
As with the film Novitiate, which presumed some Catholic background for full understanding, I think Disobedience requires that you know words like “frum” and “rebbitzen”, and get that Orthodox Jewish men wear funny underwear and their wives wear wigs and why, in order not to be distracted when these things appear. It also helps to understand the power of communities like this to keep believers, even those with doubts, in the fold.
The passions of this film are muted, except in the very explicit sex scene between the two women. The acting is outstanding. You get a sense of how cruelly righteous these communities can be toward those who live outside the norms and rules. The Rebbe left his home to the synagogue, not to his only surviving daughter, and his obituary said that regretfully he died without children. Ronit came anyway, to participate in the rituals around his death.
The final shot in the film, at the cemetery and the Rebbe’s grave, is brilliant — I won’t tell you what it is, in case you see the film.
This is a very good, if not a great film. Great films, in my book, are ones that I want to see a second time. I’ve seen Funny Bones, for example, over and over and I love it every time. One time through Disobedience gave me enough, but it was a very good one time. Highly recommend the film.