Disobedience thrives in what the studios used to turn out regularly in the golden era of so-called women’s pictures. It’s a straight-up melodrama disguised in the trappings of art house fare. But, as I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), two superb performances from a couple of Rachels, Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams and a compelling screen adaptation from director Sebastian Lelio and writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz lift this way above the norm and turn it into a simmering drama that smolders and excites.

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Based on the novel by Naomi Alderman, Disobedience is set in the confined world of an Orthodox Jewish area of London. Unconventional Ronit (Weisz) is the daughter of a prominent rabbi but fled years earlier to live her own life far from the rigid rules of that religious lifestyle. Her hair is long, she smokes, she dresses like a modern woman, and she isn’t anyone of whom her father would approve. However estranged they were, she returns years later after learning that her father suddenly died, something she feels she had to do in order to pay respect to him and come to terms with who she was and who she is still determined to be.

The world she finds is not a pretty one. The obits say he had no children. The locals stare and whisper. Ronit is invited to stay with an old friend, Rabbi Dovid Kuperman (an outstanding Alessandro Nivola), and is surprised to find that he is married to her childhood friend Esti (McAdams), with whom she once had an adolescent romance. That is where the whispers come in, as well as the complications. Although it takes awhile to shake all of this out, the flames that once existed between these two have not exactly burned out. In the middle of it all is Dovid, who is in line to replace Ronit’s father if things work out. The new wrinkle in his marriage threatens all of it, especially as Ronit and Esti’s unexplained attraction to each other is spinning out of control.

What Lelio has crafted here within a slow-burning melodramatic structure is a three-hander, a love triangle that threatens to blow up at any minute. Although deliberately paced by the Chilean director, who won the Foreign Language Film Oscar for A Fantastic Woman in March, he keeps us in the story’s grip throughout. Here in his English-language film debut, he again proves he is a brilliant director of female-based stories (he is currently doing an English remake of his terrific Chilean drama Gloria with Julianne Moore) and gets all the nuance just right in this delicate stew that lives on the dividing line between faith and desire.

Weisz and McAdams are perfectly matched here, completely natural in the required love scenes, which are tastefully handled but don’t shy away from the reality of the situation. Both stars shine, with McAdams particularly touching as the one who stayed behind, left to a life dictated by the world into which she was born. For discerning and smart adult audiences, Disobedience is a must. Producers are Ed Guiney, Frida Torresblanco, and Weisz. Bleecker Street began rolling it out in a platform release over the weekend.

Do you plan to see Disobedience? Let us know what you think.