DISOBEDIENCE – Lesbian Love in the Orthodox Jewish Community

Kernel Emma reviews the highly anticipated first English speaking film from A FANTASTIC WOMAN director Sebastián Lelio. It is out now and looks at a very controversial subject with delicate skill and respect. How would a gay relationship work in the world of the Orthodox Jewish Community? DISOBEDIENCE is rated MA15+ and runs for 114mins. Enjoy Emma’s thoughts……….all the best……..Salty.


Sebastián Lelio (A FANTASTIC WOMAN) is an exceptionally talented storyteller and an Academy Award-winning director, so seeing DISOBEDIENCE at the recent Sydney Film Festival was a no brainer. DISOBEDIENCE is an eloquently told, affecting film that explores authentic love between two women whose religion would rather see them apart. Lelio’s restrained storytelling drives this poignant film forward resulting in a powerful, moving film.


Disobedience Allesandro Nevolo image
Allesandro Nevolo



DISOBEDIENCE opens with a rabbi who gives a sermon about choice and the right to ‘free will.’ Moments later, surrounded by fellow preachers, the rabbi drops dead. In New York, photographer Ronit (Rachel Weisz) is interrupted with a call mid-shoot. Her father, the rabbi, has passed away. Unbeknown to her family, childhood friend Dovid invites Ronit to return to the strict Orthodox Jewish community in London where she grew up. But Ronit has been gone for some time and she doesn’t receive the warm welcome she had hoped for.

Walking into a world from her past, it’s clear the community Ronit was raised in has changed very little. Her Orthodox family rejects her less-than-conventional behaviour and she is almost entirely removed from the funeral proceeding – the obituary noting her father, the rabbi, had no children. Ronit smokes cigarettes and wears short, tight skirts. She is unafraid of confrontation, and she’s still very much attracted to her childhood friend, Esti (Rachel McAdams). But Esti is now married to her childhood friend Dovid and living a traditional life that Ronit rejects.

The feelings between the two women are clearly far from lost and as they spend more time together the emotions quickly flood back. While seemingly happy on the surface, Esti is lonely and oppressed. Her husband Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) is a kind man who is extremely devoted to his faith. He is by no means an antagonist, but it’s clear that Esti’s life is not what she desires. As grief and passion bring the women together, Lelio’s considered filmmaking ensures the romantic story is delivered in a way that feels authentic and respectful.


Disobedience Rachel Weisz image
Disobedience Rachel Weisz image



Both Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams deliver strong, intimate performances in DISOBEDIENCE. In a thought-provoking film where there’s no distinct villain, the complex societal values are brilliantly expressed through the leads’ authentic performances. Rachel Weisz is passionate and unapologetic in her role as Ronit, while Rachel McAdams, as wife and teacher Esti, is painfully restrained and tortured. Alessandro Nivola, who plays Dovid, is another stand out, delivering a suitably complex performance as a character who audiences will perhaps sympathise with, instead of one they will loathe. While the core issues of the film are systemic, there are several characters who, in devotion to their faith, are implicit in the women’s oppression.

The tight-knit community talks and they report back to Dovid, who is appointed as the rabbi following Ronit’s father’s death. This only adds further complication to the unusual love-triangle between the three, ending in an emotional, powerful conclusion that almost mirrors the opening sermon.


Disobedience Rachel Weisz image
Rachel Weisz



Sebastián Lelio is an expert in the art of melancholy, but he never pushes his films to a point where things feel unauthentic. He is restrained and dedicated to character development and natural storytelling. The relationship between the women is passionate and emotional, but never overtly sexualised. Scenes of sadness are driven by clever dialogue and not overtly stylised. Each dimly-lit, muted scene is a solemn reminder of the film’s subject matter.

While A FANTASTIC WOMAN was bursting with colour and poetic dance scenes, in DISOBEDIENCE the dreary palette leaves the complex characters to do what vibrant colour does not. So powerful is the storytelling that there’s a distinct fly-on-the-wall feeling throughout the film. You feel the complexity of being trapped in a patriarchal religious community and yet you sympathise with Dovid who, despite his religious beliefs, does seem genuinely understanding of the two women’s love. None of the characters are perfect, but they are all human, and Lelio ensures their complexities are communicated in a way that feels appropriately dialled back.


Disobedience Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams image
Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams



DISOBEDIENCE is a beautiful arthouse film that’s a testament to the power of restraint. It doesn’t try to tug at heartstrings, but it’s reflective and engaging, beautifully shot and authentically delivered.





Kernel Emma is documentary mad and also loves foreign and  films ! She is Salty’s honorary NooooZealanderrrr writer, but she hides out in Sydney saying sex, fush and chups to everyone’s amusement.

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.