Disobedience

May 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, Alessandro Nivola
Directed by: Sebastián Lelio (“A Fantastic Woman”)
Written by: Sebastián Lelio (“A Fantastic Woman”) and Rebecca Lenkiewicz (“Ida”)

After earning an Oscar this year for his compassionate foreign-language drama “A Fantastic Woman” (“Una Mujer Fantástica”), Chilean director Sebastián Lelio makes his American film debut with “Disobedience,” a seductive and mature love story between two women with ties to an Orthodox Jewish community in London.

Esti Kuperman (Oscar-nominated actress Rachel McAdams) and Ronit Krushka (Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz) have been close friends since childhood. Growing up together in the synagogue where Ronit’s father was a well-respected rabbi, their lives parted ways as young women when Ronit “disappeared” to New York to become a photographer.

Many years later, Ronit finds herself back in London to pay her respects after her father dies, although she admits she was never as close to him as he was to his students. Early on, Ronit is surprised to learn that Esti has married their mutual childhood friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), one of the rabbi’s prodigies. Ronit assumes it is a marriage of convenience, however, since she knows Esti, whom she has been intimate with in the past, has always been attracted to women.

Ronit’s arrival — you guessed it — reignites something inside Esti that she has kept dormant for a long time. As the two women begin to re-embrace their passion for one another, the Jewish community around them begins to stir. Already having an unfavorable opinion about Ronit for leaving her father and her faith behind, those closest to the rabbi question her motivation for returning to a society that ostracized her long ago.

Adapted from the 2006 novel of the same name by English writer Naomi Alderman, “Disobedience” is an absorbing, well-written narrative that explores the conflict between free will and religious obligation effectively and in a thought-provoking way. In Ronit, Esti and Dovid, Lelio introduces audiences to a cast of three-dimensional, adult characters who are given choices, have conversations and never overdramatize the uncomfortable situation they find themselves in. In a less capable director’s hands, a film like this would likely amount to a worn-out love triangle, but Lelio identifies the nuances within the relationships and allows them to breathe on their own. He also avoids turning the outspoken Ronit into a she-devil stock character who waltzes into Esti’s life to cause trouble like some biblical serpent — especially since the film opens with her father sermonizing on the “desires of the beast.”

While Nivola blends Dovid’s anger, empathy and disappointment perfectly, “Disobedience” belongs to McAdams and Weisz in their most provocative roles to date — from Ronit’s condemnation of Jewish traditions to Esti’s pent-up sexual frustration that she releases in one erotic afternoon. We could have done without the couple listening to The Cure’s “Lovesong” (too on the nose), but every other moment they spend together feels honest.

Ida

August 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Dawid Ogrodnik
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski (“My Summer of Love”)
Written by: Pawel Pawlikowski (“My Summer of Love”) and Rebecca Lenkiewicz (debut)

Somber in tone and shot beautifully by cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, the Polish film “Ida,” directed and co-written by Pawel Pawlikowski (“My Summer of Love”), is one of quiet moments and emotion and framed so stunningly, those familiar with black and white photography might think they’re looking through the portfolios of great 20th century artists like Edouard Boubat or Roman Vishniac.

At a brisk 82-minute runtime, “Ida” tells the story of Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a young novitiate nun in post-war 1960s Poland who was raised her entire life in an orphanage and is now nearing the end of her training so that she may take her vows and devote herself to her faith. Before she is able to do this, however, she is sent to spend some time with her only living relative, her worldly Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), who has never acknowledged her existence despite being told many times over the years that she had an orphaned niece.

During her visit, Anna is informed of her family’s past, including the fact she is Jewish and that she was born with the name Ida Lebenstein. Wanda also tells Ida that her parents may have been killed during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Hoping to discover the truth of her roots and find where her parents are buried, Ida sets out with her aunt to confront the dark secrets of her family’s history and learn how she came to be raised in a convent.

It’s a sad journey Pawlikowski takes audiences on, not only because of what is revealed about Ida, but also because the circumstances may have led her into a life that was not meant for her to live. Where would Ida be if her aunt had actually faced reality and taken responsibility for her family? Wanda, too, has tortured herself with these questions and others. It doesn’t help that Ida looks exactly like the sister she loved and lost. Nor does it help that other life-altering decisions she made in the past have now come back to haunt her with Ida’s return.

As he does in his 2004 film “My Summer of Love,” Pawlikowski tests the faith of his characters and does so through a powerfully written dynamic between two strong women, who seem like complete opposites on the morality scale. If only Pawlikowski had built on more of the story inside the convent, so we knew exactly what Ida might be turning her back on, would the film have felt more urgent. In any case, “Ida” is still extremely compelling and elegant and brims with the suggestion that a very profound line separates fate and free will.