Luminous Weisz fearlessly delves into fetish lovemaking.
The general public knows very little about the customs and rituals of Orthodox Jews and are unfamiliar in seeing their closed and isolating featured in films.
The head of a North London Orthodox Jewish community, Rav Kruschka (Anton Lesser), suddenly dies and his estranged daughter Ronit (Weisz) has come from New York for the week-long rites celebrating his life. The Rav has had a profound impact on the community and is being richly honored. The arrival of Ronit is a shock to the entire closed-knit community since everyone seems to know why she left.
Ronit arrives at her childhood friend Dovid Kupperman’s (Alessandro Nivola) modest home. Dovid has been the most devoted student of the Rav’s and, unbeknownst to Ronit, has married. While Ronit has been living the casual life of one-night stands and the other diversions available in New York, Dovid has fully embraced the orthodox lifestyle. Greeting Ronit with a hug is forbidden. Dovid implores Ronit to treat the coming week’s events with respect.
As is followed throughout the Orthodox Jewish communities, married women wear modest plain clothes and synthetic wigs. Ronit, with her New York photographer’s clothes and perfectly arranged wild hair, is not received with the warmth she had hoped for from her relatives.
The primary reason Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair is that according to Jewish law it is to make it clear to other people, men especially, that they are married. There are also much deeper kabbalistic reasons, which is why many orthodox women also cover their hair in the privacy of their own homes, even when there are no other people around. But the main idea is this: Hair is very attractive and can and does cause men to look at women.
In terms of the wigs themselves, one of the generation’s biggest halachic authorities, ruled the following about wigs: They should only be made of synthetic hair, not natural hair, be of a certain restricted length and not look like real hair or more attractive than real hair.
Ronit has only one ally in her family, her Aunt Fruma (Bernice Stegers), but her Uncle Moshe (Alan Corduner) still sees her as an outcast.
Dovid married Ronit’s best friend Esti (Rachel McAdams). The three of them were inseparable when growing up. When the Rav found Ronit and Esti in bed together, the fissure between father and daughter was complete. Ronit left the community and the Rav severed all ties to her. His obituary claimed he left no children.
Esti seems embarrassed that Dovid has asked Ronit to stay with them. Throughout the days Ronit is in the community waiting for the funeral ceremonies, Dovid is an understanding and calming influence even under the sexual tension that is apparent between Ronit and Esti.
It is Esti who makes the first sexual advance. When neighbors see Ronit and Esti in a compromising closeness, a report is made to the school where she teaches.
The truth slowly emerges that Esti has always been attracted to women and Dovid knew. The community hoped that marriage would insulate Esti, but the arrival of Ronit, which Esti instigated, reawakens her desires.
Their love making is intense and Weisz heightens the passion with an erotic fetish act. I’m categorizing it as “fetish” though it might have slipped into mainstream while I wasn’t paying attention.*
I’m not a pornography devotee, but I do a lot of reading. The last time I saw this act in a theatrical film was in 2001, in ORIGINAL SIN with Angelina Jolie and Thomas Jane. Yea, Angelina! But that was before she was anointed Blessed Angelina.
Weisz has never looked so naturally beautiful and so invested in the role of Ronit. McAdams, who has the more subdued part, is her erotic match. Nivola has a most difficult role since he must conform to the Orthodox standard of conduct. His movements and facial expressions are measured. He holds himself in a submissive manner, imbued with his religious training.
Dovid is truly the heart of DISOBEDIENCE and you have empathy for him – what can he do when passion and love override commitment and community? Dovid’s demeanor and grace make him a truly caring and thoughtful person. Instead of rage, he continues to love his wife. And the knowledge of Ronit and Esti’s relationship means that for Dovid the honor to replace the Rav and lead the community has been put in jeopardy.
Chilean Sebastián Lelio, who directed and co-wrote (with Rebecca Lenkiewicz) the screenplay based on the novel by Naomi Alderman, continues to astonish with his exploration of varying “unconventional” aspects of cultures not his own. And since Rachel Weisz has a producer credit, this appears not to be a “paid gig” but something she sought to be involved in.
*“Patti Smith came to a screening of ‘Disobedience,’” Ms. Weisz says. “She’s lovely, so warm and generous. She got up and said, ‘I just want to talk about the spitting in the mouth. That was so beautiful to me. I didn’t care what gender either of you were. It was just love, beautiful love.’ Patti’s like a girl’s girl. She likes women.”