Just imagine being Rachel McAdams for a second.
There’s like a brilliant twenty minutes in the middle of Disobedience where the two girls have kissed and you want them to start kissing again. But these girls are conflicted and feel like they shouldn’t kiss again. But then their mutual longing overcomes them and they have another kiss. This cycle repeats about three or four times and the fantastic thing about the film is that it manages to keep you on the hook through it all.
There’s a trashy queer Canadian movie from the nineties called When Night is Falling that is straight up garbage. It’s about a conservative Christian professor at a religious school finding escape from her restrictive society in a forbidden romance with a circus performer. The wonderful thing about sapphic movies is that you kinda go in knowing the beats they’ll take and so can relax into them and enjoy from a place of psychological safety. Patricia Rozema is a lesbian woman, you know her film ain’t going to hurt.
Disobedience is a trickier prospect going in. Sebastián Lelio is an ally sure, but also a man, and he’s coming off the heels of something prodigious (which to be fair to him, I never managed to catch A Fantastic Woman). People love movies about the sad gays, the more pitiable we can be the better. The visual language works to that effect for sure. He’s shooting in a constantly overcast London, through these houses which are nice for London but in the city it is easy to be house poor.
It’s grey and featureless, the kitchen we spend so much time in has those fucking faux wood effect cabinets and the wardrobes in the bedroom are clearly flat pack. Yet the house has these immaculate brass effect light switches which feel totally out of keeping with the rest of the decor. I dunno there’s something characterless about the world that it is creating, I am sadly unsure if that feeling is one that is common with the housing of the city’s Orthodox Jewish community, but these lives feel distractingly vacant.
I mean, look at Mike Leigh, Another Year takes place just about entirely in boring middle class households but he and Dick Pope make the images sing, even if the characters inhabiting them are broken and unfulfilled. Here we follow Rachel Weisz as Ronit, returning to the community she left in her youth upon hearing of the death of the father, the respected Rav Krushka. On returning home she discovers that her childhood friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and first love Esti (Rachel McAdams) married following her departure.
Esti identifies in private as a lesbian, married her husband out of a sense of obligation, and feels bound to that life by her job as a teacher in a local Jewish girls’ school, and wait. Why does this sound so familiar? Y’all had best give these folks a happy end. Aside from the relative classiness with which it is presented, and the far superior quality of the actors, it’s not really a prestige piece. It’s gonna find a home among soft queers who like kissing and respect the fact that there’s a sex scene which involves spitting.
Possibly not though because it is so visually dour. Like really, something awful and for a film with such deliberate pacing the alienation that it conveys is tiring. The two Rachels are fucking fantastic, like really, and you just live for those two hours to watch the look of consternation melt slowly off of their faces. Nivola puts in the work and honestly makes the frustrated husband character way more interesting than they usually are, and I’ll always stan for ma boy Allan Corduner who gets like three scenes and drives some of the flicks few genuine laughs.
It needed more of them. It’s too serious for its own good. It wants to be not trash, and sure, it isn’t. Instead it’s just mostly bland, elevated by two fantastic actresses who sometimes do a good kiss.
But imagine being Rachel McAdams.
Disobedience is currently screening in UK cinemas.
Image courtesy of Bleecker Street