DISOBEDIENCE — Review by Susan Granger

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Chilean director Sebastian Lelio, who won this year’s Foreign Language Oscar for the transgender drama A Fantastic Woman, has adapted Naomi Alderman’s novel as his first English-language film, co-writing with playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida). Set in Hendon, the north London suburb where the Alderman, a former Orthodox Jew, grew up, it begins as elderly, revered Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser) is giving what will be his last sermon – on the nature of free will, a divine gift bestowed only on humans. Continue reading…

After he dies, his long-estranged daughter, New York avant-garde photographer Ronit (Rachel Weisz) rushes home. But that’s an insular, devoutly religious patriarchy, where she is treated with outwardly courteous but obvious contempt. She openly smokes, doesn’t cover her head, and rails against “institutional obligation.”

Greeting her at the door where they’re sitting Shiva is Rabbi Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), her father’s disciple/surrogate son, her childhood friend, soon to be chosen as her father’s successor. To her astonishment, Ronit discovers that he’s now married to her closest friend – and furtive teenage lover – Esti (Rachel McAdams).

When Ronnit inquires: “Do you guys have sex every Friday?” Esti demurely nods, “It’s expected.” To which Ronnit, an avid feminist, murmurs, “Medieval.”

The women’s lesbian relationship is immediately rekindled, culminating in an afternoon of anguish and erotic ecstasy. Predictably, their ‘forbidden’ secret is soon discovered. The two Rachels deliver sympathetically realistic performances, while Alessandro Nivola’s restrained anguish is palpable.

While Sebastian Lelio reveals the austere manners and mores of the close-knit, cloistered community, his heavy-handed, one-sided, melodramatic depiction of sadly repressed, oppressed Hasidic women in frumpy, dark clothes follows Natalie Portman’s “New York, I Love You” and Renee Zellweger’s “A Price Above Rubies,” among others.

In recent years, I have come to know reverently Orthodox women who exult in the joy and fullness of their traditional lives, presiding over their weekly Shabbat dinners.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Disobedience” is a sensitive, yet simplistic 6, revealing an ideological, fundamentalist dilemma to a secular audience.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.