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Simple, Bleak, Poignant?: 'Disobedience' Is All of These Things

Bleeker Street Media
Rachel Weisz (left) and Rachel McAdams star in "Disobedience."


With a title like Disobedience, you might expect a film full of intense conflict. And while there is certainly conflict, it's much more internal -  at times quietly reflected through the lives of the main characters.


Starring Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, and Alessandro Nivola, the film follows Ronit (Weisz) as she returns to the Orthodox Jewish community that shunned her for her father's funeral. Now that she is back in her childhood friends, Esti (McAdams) and Dovid's (Nivola) lives, passions are reignited and the boundaries of sexuality, faith, tradition, and purpose are crossed.


"'Simple' - what's wrong with that? 'Bleak' - that's part of reality. 'Poignant?' Yes. I think (Disobedience) is all these things," says film contributor and Shepherd Express arts and entertainment editor Dave Luhrssen.  "I think it's a marvelously constructed screenplay... (It) does great work in bringout out the plot bit by bit, it doesn't dump a whole lot of exposition on the viewer right away."




Directed by Sebastian Lelio, who most recently won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for A Fantastic Woman, his latest work just as detail-orientated according to Luhrssen.


"He uses the color and the hues and almost the texture, if you can talk about a film in that way, to great effect. I think maybe reinforcing the idea of bleakness and of poignancy," he says.

While some films do not properly handle the complexities and accurate depections of religious communities, Disobedience takes great care and does not make characatures of any role according to Luhrssen. He also says that when done well, these settings can be a great benefit to a story.

"One of the advantages of setting a movie in an Orthodox Jewish melieu or something similar to that is the very definite sense of borders around the community," notes Luhrssen. "These kinds of settings are very useful to a storyteller and a filmmaker."

The limited settings also allow the actors to truly shine without the audience getting distracted. Weisz, McAdmas, and Nivola portray their characters in a very sympathetic manner, says Luhrssen. "We understand their particular points of view, I think we can feel along with them, their responses to what's going on."

"It's really a trilogy of people whose performances as actors mutually support each other in the project in a very believable way," he adds.

Another important aspect of Disobedience is the care that was taken off-screen by Rachel Weisz, who personally researched the project and is also a producer of the film. Luhrssen says that in the era of the #MeToo movement, having a female produced, female centered, queer film is an important piece of our culture's wider dialouge.

"What we need in our culture today is a multiplicity of perspectives that we can learn from and understand and see how complicated reality really is, and how the same situation can be viewed in so many different ways by different people of different backgrounds," he says.

"I think that (the film) will be a door opener in the sense that it's an example of a movie on a subject that can find a (wider) audience, not just an LGBTQ audience, on the basis of quality," adds Luhrssen.

The quiet power of Disobedience is perhaps not felt as strongly by all who see it, but Luhrssen says that a film that has more silence and space to make us think a little deeper is not a bad thing.

"It avoids melodrama. There's an emotional subltey to it, which I think leaves a deeper and longer impression on most people."

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
David Luhrssen is arts and entertainment editor of the Shepherd Express, co-founder of the Milwaukee International Film Festival and co-author of A Time of Paradox: America Since 1890. He is the winner of the Pace Setter Award for contributions to Milwaukee's film community from the Milwaukee Independent Film Society. David Luhrssen has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and Milwaukee Area Technical College.