Disobedience opens at the Roxy Fri., June 15.
There’s a moment in Disobedience about 45 minutes in that really highlighted for me just how little I cared. Our protagonist Ronit (Rachel Weisz) says, “There’s no point in my being here!” and I’m thinking, “Totally, Ronit! These people are snobs, go change that flight back home you keep limply alluding to and let’s call this movie early.” How great would it be if midway through a film you weren’t enjoying, the characters just threw up their hands and said, “To hell with it!”? Of course, that never happens.
Disobedience begins with a revered rabbi addressing his congregation, until he abruptly drops dead. Next, we cut to Ronit, who has an English accent but lives in New York City as a hip photographer. We see her bone a stranger in a bathroom stall (movie language for “this girl does what she wants, but her life is empty”), and then — is she ice skating? That sounds insane, but my memory tells me the next scene is a closeup of her face as she drolly ice skates.
Now Ronit’s at her childhood home in London, where she’s greeted at the door by Dovid (Alessandro Nivo), a high-ranking rabbi in his own right who seems surprised and not entirely happy to see her. Dovid’s wife Esti (Rachel McAdams) enters the kitchen, and we tediously infer through unexciting dialogue that the three of them were close in the past, but now things are weird. Next, we figure out that the dead rabbi is Ronit’s father, that Ronit must have been “disobedient” in her youth, that she absconded to the states, that no one likes her at this funeral and that her father seemed to have erased the memory of ever having had a daughter.
I wasted a good quarter of this movie trying to figure out what exactly Ronit had done to warrant so much disapproving whispering. I figured it must have been something gay (because there are two women kissing on the movie poster), but could that really be the whole story? I like knowing as little as possible about a picture before going in (if I had it my way, you’d put a blindfold on me, spin me around the room and lead me to a mystery theater every time.). Disobedience lingers for some time in that space of fake tension, where the characters have the whole story but the audience has just arrived. Anyway, I’d have saved myself a lot of pain if I’d just read IMDb’s brief synopsis: “A woman returns to the community that shunned her for her attraction to a childhood friend. Once back, their passions reignite....” and so on.
My heart really sank when I learned the picture was directed by Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lello, whose 2017 best foreign film winner, A Fantastic Woman, left me psychotically underwhelmed. Let the record show that I gave Disobedience a fair shake and still hated it before learning that it was made by one of my least favorite working directors.
On the upside, Disobedience is a full two shades better than Lello’s last picture. Once again, he pits a strong protagonist against awful people just to watch them squirm (“Being married, well, that’s the way it should be!” an uptight lady says, straight to Ronit’s face.), but Lello is at least a tad subtler this time, and the performances are better. Finally, there’s a truly great sex scene nestled right in the middle of 114 minutes of unrepentant boringness. Pro tip: In the near future, when this movie is streaming, skip to the 65-minute mark.