Review / ‘Disobedience’ (MA) ****

Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz as lovers Esti and Ronit in “Disobedience”.

IN 2006, Naomi Alderman’s first novel earned her two prestigious-enough awards. One London reviewer wrote: “Alderman’s commentary on Orthodox Judaism in the 21st century is thought-provoking and illuminating”.

This Canberra reviewer found the filmed version by the writer (in collaboration with Rebecca Lenkiewicz) and director Sebastian Lelio matches that observation beautifully, with a group of admirable performances telling a story that puts two issues under a microscope and unflinchingly describes what it reveals.

Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser) collapses and dies as he is about to complete delivering a powerful sermon in a Hendon (London) synagogue.

We meet his only daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz) in the arms of her New York lover and follow her to London where she re-establishes contact with Esti (Rachel McAdams) married to her cousin Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). The stage is set for a warts-and-all examination of an Orthodox Jewish community.

“Disobedience” pulls no punches about the traditions of Jewish religious observance. The practice of separating the women at religious services and the role of women in domestic life get subtly scarifying.

And what has gently been simmering underneath the community’s male domination comes to a figurative boil when the film begins its treatment of its other issue that’s rather more dramatic because it happens in every race and faith.

Esti may be a wife but she finds Dovid’s obligatory Friday night copulation repulsive and unfulfilling. The person she really loves and has done since childhood is Ronit. The two Rachels play those characters with delicacy, sweetness and, dare I say it, credibility, as a series of passionate encounters develops into a bedroom sequence that, to this straight bloke who has several valued lesbian friends, explains much.

Naomi Alderman says she wasn’t writing about events in her life but writing it led her to cease being a practising Jew. My mother would probably have agreed with her.

At Dendy and Palace Electric

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