Rachel McAdams shows a new side in Orthodox Jewish lesbian love story Disobedience

But, unlike in his Oscar winning A Fantastic Woman, Sebastián Lelio doesn’t convey the essence of his central character’s inner conflict

DISOBEDIENCE (Sebastián Lelio). 114 minutes. Opens Friday (May 18). See listing. Rating: NNN

Sebastián Lelio’s tale of two women who have an affair in an Orthodox Jewish community in London is well done, if not entirely convincing.

New York City photographer Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns home to London after the death of her father, an esteemed rabbi. Her uneasiness at first seems to stem from her sense that everyone there disapproves of her – she’d fled the community to pursue a secular life – but soon it becomes clear that she’s nervous about encountering Esti (Rachel McAdams), who had been her very secret lover. Esti is married to Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), another former close friend of Ronit’s, who’s in line to be the next rabbi. Esti has been a dutiful wife for years, but can’t resist Ronit.

Lelio excels at creating ambiguity, and Weisz is excellent as a woman who struggles to rebel and be respectful at the same time.

But McAdams is the key here, conveying the inner conflict between her duty and her desire, forbearing on one hand, sexy on the other. 

Unfortunately, where in his previous movies (Gloria, the Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman), director Lelio was adept at conveying his female characters’ desires and dilemmas, he doesn’t quite pull it off here. We don’t get a sense of what could possibly be keeping Esti in her community, except her sense of duty, which is not necessarily what troubles religious gays.

Watch the 2001 documentary Trembling Before G-d to see how deeply conflicted Orthodox gays are between their desire for their lovers and their passion for community and spiritual fulfillment within Judaism. That’s missing here, largely because the novel on which the film is based is told entirely from the point of view of the emancipated Ronit, and so Lelio doesn’t have a lot to work with.

And some elements of the story here don’t make sense. Why does Dovid agree to let Ronit stay with him and Esti, knowing his wife’s history? 

Still the essence of this film is hard to resist and the Rachels have great chemistry.

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