(Release Info London schedule; November 24th, 2018, Curzon Soho, 11:00)
A woman returns to her 'Orthodox Jewish Community' after the death of her rabbi father and stirs up controversy when she shows an interest in an old childhood friend.
In a 'Jewish Orthodox Synagogue' in Hendon, the frail Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser) collapses whilst giving a sermon. As funeral rites commence in London, the Rabbi’s exiled daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz) is living her life as a photographer in Manhattan. During a photo shoot she's told by 'The Brooklyn Synagogue' of her father’s death; wounded by the news and in a vulnerable state, she gets drunk in a local bar and sleeps with an undetermined man. Ronit flies home to London where she feels out of place in 'The Orthodox Jewish Community' she left behind. She's greeted at the home of Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), a son figure to the Rav, who's taken aback by the unexpected return of his childhood friend. Her welcome inside the home is hostile from those in the community gathering in the Rav’s honour. Her aunt Fruma Hartog (Bernice Stegers) greets her more openly, though the air is frosty between Ronit and her uncle Moshe (Allan Corduner). Ronit is both upset and angry that she was not informed of her father’s illness and that her father’s obituary claims he was childless. Despite tension surrounding Ronit’s sudden departure in the past, Dovid invites her to stay with him and his wife.
Ronit is shocked to discover that he's married to their former best friend Esti (Rachel McAdams), now a teacher at an Orthodox girl's school. It's uncomfortable between the two women; a complicated past is clearly hanging over them. The next day Ronit visits her father’s grave. After further prayers at their home, Dovid, Esti and Ronit go to a dinner at the Hartog house with Rabbi Goldfarb (Nicholas Woodeson). Ronit tries to talk to her Uncle about selling her father’s house, but he tells her now is not the right time for such a topic. Conversation turns to Ronit’s successful career as a photographer and Goldfarb's daughter Rebbetzin (Liza Sadovy) questions why she goes by Ronnie Curtis (Adam Lazarus) after seeing one of her photos in a magazine. Esti, quietly joining in the conversation, states that women change their names all the time when they get married and lose their own history. Everyone is silently shocked at Esti’s controversial comment. Rebbetzin continues questioning Ronit’s life in New York and asks why she's still not married, as it’s the way it should be for a woman. Ronit disagrees, calling marriage an institutional obligation and if she had stayed in the community and been married off, she would have killed herself.
Everyone is shocked by her outburst and Ronit, blaming her jet lag, excuses herself to go home. Dovid, upon Esti’s request, leaves to walk her home. Ronit breaks down to Dovid, hoping her father knew she truly loved him. Dovid, struggling against the rules of his religion, tries to comfort his childhood friend without touching her. Ronit visits her uncle Hartog at his wigmaker’s shop to continue the discussion of selling her father’s house, but is informed by Hartog that the Rav left the house and all its contents to 'The Synagogue'. She leaves and soon runs into Esti outside a supermarket. They visit the Rav’s house together, a rundown mess full of medical equipment, it is not so much the house that Ronit wanted, but for her father to acknowledge her in his will. Esti admits that she does not want Ronit to leave again; past feelings are reignited and they kiss, at first timidly as Ronit pulls back, and then passionately. Ronit retreats once more, confused about her feelings. They leave the house and Esti confesses that she had called 'The Brooklyn Synagogue' to let Ronit know of her father’s death. She tells Ronit that she married Dovid, a man she doesn’t love romantically but respects, as she was mentally unwell following Ronit’s sudden departure and married their best friend upon the Rav’s suggestion.
As they relax into each other’s company and kiss again, they're interrupted by Hinda (Clara Francis) and husband Lev (Mark Stobbart) and are unsure how much they saw. Esti rushes home, tense; she almost embraces Dovid but their marriage still lacks the passion she has with Ronit. At school, Esti is summoned to see the headmistress Mrs. Shapiro (Caroline Gruber) where Hinda and Lev are waiting to confront her. Allegations about Esti and Ronit also plague Dovid when he's asked by 'The Synagogue' to take on the Rav’s work. Ronit waits for Esti at the school gates, where Esti tells her about the formal complaint Hinda and Lev have submitted against her. Upon Ronit’s suggestion, they escape the close knit community and head into central London for the day. Ronit and Esti continue to be conflicted in their attraction to one other; Esti feels guilty and is trying to lead a good life in line with her faith, but cannot help but desire her former lover. They go to a hotel where they make love, completely at ease and euphoric in each other’s company. They talk about how Ronit’s father first learnt of their relationship all those years ago. Esti returns home late at night, where Dovid is waiting in their bedroom. He tries to get close to her but his yearning to be intimate with his wife is rebuked once again by a confused Esti.
Nauseous the next day, Esti begins to wonder if she's pregnant. Dovid confronts Esti about Mrs Shapiro’s accusations and she admits what happened between them. Dovid’s anger almost turns violent as he releases his frustration at his wife’s inability to embrace their life together. Ronit, having overheard the argument, tries to persuade Esti to leave her husband, but Esti struggles to come to a decision. They both try to convince each other, and themselves, they're happy in their lives. Unable to cope with the current events, Dovid seeks refuge in a quiet Synagogue library. The atmosphere is tense when he returns home for dinner with Ronit and Esti. When Ronit announces that she has booked a flight back to New York that night, Dovid seems relieved and quietly asked his wife what she plans on doing now. Ronit and Esti share a difficult goodbye, both unable to share their true feelings. Esti accuses Ronit of taking the easy option by leaving, Ronit storms out the house and Esti slams the door behind her; both heartbroken at the recent events. In the middle of the night, Esti leaves the house and returns to the hotel room with a pregnancy test.
Waking up at the airport the next morning, Ronit receives a panicked phone call from Dovid saying Esti is missing. After trying to calm him down, she continues to check into her flight, but later decides to leave and help Dovid in the search for her. Returning home after failing in their search for Esti, Ronit is still angry that Dovid didn’t tell her of her father’s illness. Esti returns from hiding and, having heard everything, announces her pregnancy. Dovid is joyous, believing a child will solve all their marital problems, but Esti instead asks for freedom for her and her child. She was born into the community and wants to give her child the freedom of choice she never had. Dovid is speechless and Esti feels guilty for crushing her husband’s dreams of becoming a father. Ronit and Esti attend the Hesped at the Synagogue, intimidated by the judgemental looks they receive. Esti tries to make peace with Dovid, but he ignores her. Moved by the temple’s sacred atmosphere, Ronit asks Esti to be with her in New York. They clutch hands as Dovid takes to the podium, where he struggles to deliver the official speech on the Rav’s passing.
Seeing Ronit in the crowd, he instead contemplates the notion of freedom and choice, a topic that the Rav spoke about in his final sermon, and grants Esti the autonomy she has requested. Dovid declines 'The Synagogue' position and abruptly leaves the Hesped. Outside, overcome with emotion Esti and Dovid hug. Ronit watches on in the distance until Dovid extends an arm and the three friends have a long heartfelt hug together. Next morning, Ronit prepares to leave for the airport. She bids a quiet farewell to Dovid outside his bedroom and goes to see Esti, who has slept on the sofa. They say goodbye; it seems Esti has decided against joining Ronit in New York. As Ronit’s taxi pulls away down the street, Esti runs after her and the pair share a long goodbye kiss, promising to remain in contact. An emotional Ronit visits her father’s grave one last time and takes a photo, achieving a sense of closure over his passing and the recent events.
Ronit is this modern, free spirited woman who has run away from her origins. Esti has stayed in the community but has run away from her true self. By letting Ronit know of her father’s death, Esti not only allows Ronit the opportunity to reconnect with her origins, but also calls her own destiny; knowing this is her last chance to be set free. And there's this other important element of Dovid, the Rav’s spiritual son and natural successor. The days of mourning allow all these passions and repressed feelings to come out and a new order is established. During the years, Esti has become a master in disguise, hiding behind wigs and manners. But deep inside she’s a desperate woman trying to reconnect with who she's. Even though Esti is navigating through a lot of complex situations, there's something very stable about her that allows the character to be strong and fragile at the same time Ronit and Esti are the same person divided in two. One escaped and became free, the other stayed and embraced the religion; but both paid a big price.
Ronit is living with her guilt that she has erased her father from her own life after he disowned her. When she left, she chose not get in contact with him. There's this regret of being too late to forgive each other. To find forgiveness and peace with a parent before they die is incredibly important to carry on with your life. A part of her story is about how you can leave where you’re from, but you can’t really leave it behind; you carry it with you wherever you go. You think you're free living your life, but you need to find closure on certain things. For Ronit not to be contacted about her father’s illness, she’s denied closure to come and say goodbye which is very painful. Ronit questioned the religious laws; her free liberal thinking is immensely dangerous to the tiny closed community. There are so many rules and laws and Ronit questioned them hard and was seen as a rebel and anti-authoritarian as a result. It's a love story between all three of them and how their relationships evolve and their lives are affected by these days of grief.
Esti is a gay woman who's in a loving heterosexual marriage. In her religion, homosexuality is considered a sin, but she believes in god so she’s trying to do the right thing by her marriage. She's in a lot of psychological pain because of this decision and Ronit’s return releases all her desire to be free. At the same time, she doesn’t view her life as a prison because she loves Dovid as a dear friend. Dovid is an innately conservative and spiritual man, who was Ronit’s father’s favourite student. Growing up, Ronit was jealous of their relationship because they could sit around talking about Judaism for hours, which didn’t appeal to Ronit. So there’s always been a bit of sibling rivalry between the two of them, but Dovid is a decent, morally good man. Even though the community is warning him about the trouble Ronit could bring, he knows she is mourning her father and should be involved. When his decency is tested in a very serious way, he discovers an existential spirituality outside any given doctrine, and Alessandro has really tapped into that and the sense of righteousness that you need play a Rabbi.
At a young age, Dovid's father saw a quality and a connection with god in Dovid which could help bind the community together in a way that he had, so he became his pupil. Dovid’s adolescence would have been spent with this man, which is how he came to be so close to Ronit and her best friend Esti, who he might not have known otherwise because young men and women are kept quite separate in 'The Orthodox World'. After Ronit left, he became adopted by him as his only child so the situation is difficult for everyone. The man was essentially his father. His death at the beginning of the script really sparks of this confusing situation where she comes back to mourn him and there mourning him like a father. Dovid represents someone who has committed his life to his religion in a very intense and profound way, and has to reconcile those beliefs against his sense of goodness and his love for the people he's closest too. It really explored that dilemma for him in a detailed, complex and beautiful way.
Dovid and Esti have a loving relationship built on deep friendship and full of respect. When Ronit left so suddenly, Esti was destroyed and Dovid was there to pick her up, so she’s very grateful to him for saving her life in some ways, but she might still be with him out of certain obligation and gratitude. She's living a life she thinks is good enough by ignoring her sexuality and making the choice to be with Dovid. Esti is a real believer in Judaism and being a good Jewish wife and member of the community, it’s a belief that lives deep inside her. So to have her sexuality deemed not acceptable in her community creates an inner struggle for her. For the most part, she believes she's happy but doesn’t realise she’s cut off this major part of herself. It’s difficult for Esti to have Ronit return and not be able to openly comfort her, she's very self conscious about how she acts and respectful of Dovid as they are the pillars of the community. She also feels the real sting that she left, not just her but Dovid as well. They're a great group of friends that only had each other and when Ronit left, it was a real betrayal to both of them. But somewhere deep inside, Esti knew that things needed to change, which is why she gets the message to Ronit that her father has passed; her return is the catalyst for Esti to revaluate her choices.
This film is based on Naomi Alderman’s 2006 novel ‘Disobedience’. What really grabs about the novel is the theme of transgression in the modern world where there's almost nothing taboo anymore. The term disobedience means very little unless you find the right community to set it in, like the small 'Orthodox Jewish Community' in North London. If you find a story of transgression within an ordered old fashioned society, you've a great universal drama that anyone can relate to. What responds most in the film is how utterly human these characters are with all their flaws and self-doubt; their forgiveness and their disobedience. We all have a fear of family, as well as a love, and we want to honour the complexity of love and loss in her book. "Disobedience" is a drama of love and the fight for acceptance against the confines of the regimented 'Orthodox Community' in North London. We’re going through a war in which only certain relationships are considered legitimate and who draws the line where and with which authority. This is a story about characters that are willing to change and evolve, but to do so they've to go through very rigid structures and that confrontation resonates with what we’re going through nowadays as a human society all over the world.
The 'Jewish Orthodox' background is of course very important but what’s really going on in the film, in a certain way transcends that particular cultural specificity. The heart of the story is very universal. These are people who are full of passion and affection for each other. Sometimes 'The Orthodox' is perceived like a hostile community, ruthless in it's judgement of the outside world. Life is always presenting you with situations that aren’t easily resolved. So ideally people will walk away without easy answers; the best stories are the ones that aren’t packed. Hopefully people will walk away having had their opinions and preconceptions about certain life challenged. The film explores the theme of personal freedom and what it means to follow your own path, it's a story that has an incredible amount of hope in it.
"Disobedience" is a very intense journey. The characters are going through a certain turmoil that defines the film and makes it oscillate between different tones. The story explores the whole emotional spectrum of Ronit, Esti and Dovid. They feel very real, very close. You feel like you're sitting at the dining tables and lying in those beds with the characters; Even though we might not know much about the very secretive world of 'London Jewish Orthodoxy', the film generates a very intimate, strangely familiar feeling. It's a story about confused human beings interacting and trying to do the best they can against a background of fixed conceptions. This is a story about characters that are willing to change and evolve, but to do so they've to go through very rigid structures and that confrontation resonates with what we’re going through nowadays as a human society all over the world, where the old paradigms seem to be either obsolete or insufficient.