Upon hearing of the death of her estranged rabbi father, New York City photographer Ronit (Rachel Weisz), reacts by swinging from unorthodox adult behavior—drinking heavily, engaging in anonymous sex—to more childlike activity: She goes ice skating. We immediately learn that a big part of Ronit's soul is shackled to her past. Even when she deliberately rips some of her clothing, an ancient Jewish tradition of rending a garment to express unspeakable emotion, we see that an equal part of her soul remains an Orthodox Jew. She's soon aboard a jet heading back to England and the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood where she grew up. But she is shunned by nearly all of her former neighbors. Even her father's obituary in the local Hebrew newspaper reads, "Sadly, he had no children."
Thus begins a deep, self-aware dive into Disobedience, a fine adaptation of Naomi Alderman's best-selling novel of the same name, which won the author the 2007 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. I loved the book, so I must admit to some trepidation in approaching its big screen transformation. But I'm happy to report that director Sebastian Lelio (an Oscar winner this past March for A Fantastic Woman), and the performances of Weisz and Rachel McAdams—who portrays Esti, Ronit's former lover—raise Disobedience to a must-see film.
I first saw a screening of Disobedience in Toronto last year, and would have bet my last dollar that it would have been promoted as a serious Oscar contender, particularly for Weisz's and McAdams' performances. Yet for reasons I can't fathom, distributors chose to hold Disobedience until this spring. When the film opened in New York City and Los Angeles, it immediately became the fourth-best per-theater box office success of the year, only following Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther and Isle of Dogs. It will open in Boise on Thursday, May 17, at Edwards Boise Downtown Stadium 9.
There is a lot to love in Disobedience, but two scenes—one of them rather subtle and the other quite provocative—top the list. Early in the film, Ronit and Esti are walking through the now-empty home of Ronit's late father when Ronit spots an old radio on a fireplace mantle. She turns the radio on, but tunes away from a Hebrew-only station to land on pop music. A second later, the 1989 tune Lovesong by The Cure fills the room, and for a moment, the two women are transported to a forbidden love of their youth. Esti impulsively kisses Ronit, physically unlocking that past. Soon after, the two women are in a midtown London Hotel room, in one of the most electric nudity-free love scenes in recent memory. Ultimately, many hearts will be broken, including yours perhaps, as you watch two of contemporary film's finest actresses at the top of their games.