Based on the novel of the same name, Disobedience is the epic romance film that the Orthodox Jewish LGBTQ community has been waiting for.
The film is the second consecutive film from director Sebastián Lelio to hit very close to home for this film critic–being both a transgender woman and a member of the Orthodox Jewish LGBTQ community. Sebastián Lelio, who also directed A Fantastic Woman starring Daniela Vega, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz adapted Naomi Alderman’s award-winning book for the big screen.
After learning that her estranged father, Rav Krashka (Anton Lesser), has died, Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) flies from New York to London to pay her final respects to her dad. It’s back in London where she learns that her cousin, Rabbi Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), isn’t only her father’s spiritual successor but also married to her former girlfriend, Esti (Rachel McAdams). It’s not long before Ronit and Esti get back to their old ways–Nathan Nugent’s editing during the Shabbas dinner helps to play up the lingering romantic tension between the two of them.
Before one knows it, there’s some steamy passion going on between the two woman and yes, this also includes the hyped up spit scene that people were talking about when the film premiered at Toronto. The film goes for a lot of the sex and passion–mostly passion–in these scenes but there’s no shortage of scenes with both Ronit and Esti once the relationship starts up again. It’s only when Esti’s husband finds out about them that his reaction is cringe-worthy to say the least. That being said, the scene plays out in a way that’s representative of so many Orthodox LGBTQ community members who have had to hide who they truly are. Speaking from personal experience, all one needs to do is ask their Orthodox transgender friends (if you know any) because most of us end up leaving the Orthodox community because we feel we no longer have a place. Some even stop practicing altogether and that’s the real tragedy of ostracizing the LGBTQ members of the Orthodox community.
If Orthodox Jewish communities aren’t yet talking about how they treat the LGBTQ members of the community, Disobedience should do the trick. Esti Kuperman, married to Rabbi Dovid Kuperman, is that Orthodox Jewish lesbian who is forced to marry a man so as to not be ostracized by the community because of her sexuality. The Orthodox community tends to marry their children off at a young age so many of the people in the film are surprised to learn that Ronit Krushka hasn’t gotten married yet and even more of a surprise to learn she doesn’t want children.
The book drew some controversy and scathing reviews upon release so there’s no reason to think the film won’t do the same. While McAdams does a superb job at playing a frum (devout/pious Jew in terms of Halakha–the body of Jewish laws) woman, a Jewish woman could have certainly brought more authenticity to the film. Given how Hebrew is such a complex language, McAdams does have a grasp on the blessings that come with the Friday night rituals, such as the candle lighting on Shabbat. There are so many nuances that come with being raised in a frum environment that aren’t easily learned. When all is said and done, the casting seems to be a case of Jewish erasure–the practice of casting a non-Jewish person as a Jewish character. The character of Esti Kuperman is likely not a convert and it’s because of this that McAdams was not right for the role. This isn’t to take anything away from her talent as an actress nor the film’s message.
While Disobedience may give one an inside look at the life of a closeted woman in an Orthodox Jewish community, the film leaves one with a feeling of wanting more.
DIRECTOR: Sebastián Lelio
SCREENWRITER: Sebastián Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz
CAST: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, and Alessandro Nivola
Premiering at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and holding its US Premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Bleecker Street will open Disobedience in select theaters on April 27, 2018, followed by a national roll-out.