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10:52, 29 December 2018

Film review: One of the most provocative, yet underrated films of 2018 from Oscar winning director Sebastian Lelio "Disoebdience"

AKIPRESS.COM - Disobedience begins with the main character Ronit (Rachel Weisz), a bohemian New York portrait photographer, returning to a North London suburb, where she was born and raised in an orthodox Jewish community, from which she suddenly fled as a teenager. The reason for her return is the news of the death of her father, a deeply respected Rabbi of the community, with whom she has lost contact since her departure.

Events slowly unfold, step by step, revealing the background of what happened in the past. Very delicately, through subtle half-hints, clipped phrases, looks and gestures, the director begins to expose the entire chain of previous events, placing the viewer in the midst of reawakened desires, uncontrollable changes, tense inner conflicts and the emotional turmoil of the main characters.

Most of the filming took place within the Jewish community in North London. The director used three cultural consultants to accurately create the essence of the community, helping to bring volume and layers to the story, taking into account the sensitivity and exclusivity of the subject matter.

Rachel McAdams plays the role of Esti, a childhood friend of Ronit's. The work of both Rachels is impressive. And if the image of Rachel Weiss as independent, free-thinking and provocative is, in a certain sense expected, then Rachel McAdams, to whom the viewer, could be less sympathetic, reveals herself to be an actress on an entirely different level. The director sets her the goal of performing through the suppression of her life force and inner light. It is through her experiences and hidden sufferings, that the audience relates to the story. McAdams is not overshadowed by Weisz, but is given the role of catalyst, which helps the audience to refrain from rejection and instead embrace a sense of understanding and empathy without resorting to hypocritical blame and piety.

Rachel Weisz is magical, as always, able to command attention through a deep piercing glance, edgy subtle humor, fierce inner strength and, of course, her distinctive, sensual voice.

Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), another of Ronit's friends and also Esti's husband, has a kind and appealing character. As Ronit's father's successor, seemingly obliged to stand guard over centuries-old rules instead of blaming and resorting to violence, Dovid tries to understand, protect and ultimately release. In a powerful speech at the end of the film, the order of his world shaken, he delivers a composed and dignified message to his congregation, with underlying references to his wife, relating to identity, choice and acceptance.

The script was written in co-authorship with Rebecca Lenkiewicz (screenwriter of the film Ida) and based on the book by British writer Naomi Alderman. The presence of Rebecca's writing can be felt in the scenes relating to humility and resignation to the fate of Esti, and is a reminder of the image of Ida before she makes her life changing decision.

Intimate scenes within the film are quite provocative and frank, however they are sensual and modest in comparison to a similar film, Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden(Korea). As Lelio jokes, only after watching the Korean film did he realize how he should have shot his own scenes, but by then it was too late!

For a Chilean man to make a film based on the subtleties and versatility of the female soul and reveal delicately, beautifully, but truthfully, the way of the Jewish community, is, at least, courageous. Lelio says that he never sets himself any restrictions in choosing a topic, and the only measure and criterion for him to become involved in a project is intuition and a connection with the story.

And if for some people, Lelio is the director of films with weak storylines, who has made a name for himself by manipulating the provocative stories of non-traditional women, then for others, Lelio's films are stories told by a person for whom nation and gender is totally unimportant.

As for me, the question of the title of the film remains open. Disobedience to what? Disobedience to the traditional ways and expectations of society... or to yourself and your true inner nature?

Asel Sherniyazova By Asel Sherniyazova,
co-founder and Managing Director of the Asian World Film Festival

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