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Review: Disobedience (Sebastian Lelio)

Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz in Disobedience

In London's pallid winter, far from the romantic bitterness of Arctic-adjacent cold yet further still from anything resembling warmth, the heat of another human's body possesses an indelible allure for forbidden lovers. Throw in a dash of deeply ingrained cultural rancour for the ideal transgression, irresistible temptation in powerful erotic longing, minds, hearts and bodies uncontrollably attracted. Disobedience emits a familiar air of rebellion amid repression, its seeming rigidity and frigidity fissured by indulgent carnality, though it's in fact a rare creature among its kin - here we see how openly and unashamedly genuine romantic passion can challenge shame itself, how conflict unnecessarily imposed can be so swiftly and simply negated by honesty, openness and conviction. Is this a realistic representation? Perhaps, and perhaps not, but it's certainly a refreshing one, and Sebastian Lelio's fine feature pulls it off handsomely by resisting the urge to simplify anywhere else in its development.

A Rav's daughter returns home to London after years living free of her familial faith in New York - he has just died, and she has received word, though the childhood friend who greets her upon arrival, the Rav's protege, is surprised by her sudden appearance. He has, to her own surprise, married their other close friend, whose brief lesbian relationship with the Rav's daughter caused scandal in their youth. This relationhip will be rekindled, scandal will be reignited, and the three friends will be forced to navigate these troubled waters in already troubled times for the community, alongside the ramifications it may hold for their collective friendship. Disobedience opens up boundless pathways with each new development, whether major or minor, spontaneous or latent; Lelio's camera is trained on his actors' faces for every visible or potential sign of which pathway may be taken, which may be left open, which may be closed off temporarily or permanently. Characters crossing boundaries engenders a movie on the edge - even its conclusion leaves available so many opportunities.

I was enthralled by the cast entire, though the three leads are truly remarkable. Rachel Weisz as the deceased Rav's daughter, Ronit, is typically emotionally forthcoming, this most subtly expressive actor producing some of her most sensitive work. Alessandro Nivola as the protege, Dovid, a model of restraint whose ticking time bomb is far more threatening than the other characters' loose cannons, makes the most of the best role he's arguably ever yet received. Nivola is no showman, and his customary understatement is deployed to exquisite use here. And Rachel McAdams as his wife, Esti, makes a case against all the milquetoast parts she's played since Mean Girls, delivering a performance here that's the inverse of her iconic Regina George, yet even more impressive. If McAdams can always be this good with such vivid roles, I never want to see her in anything less - she's revelatory in Disobedience. The movie almost is too.

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