Getting what we want from life, especially in an area as critical as romance, may push us to our limits. We may find ourselves saddled with constraints that push back against us, thwarting our efforts and keeping us from fulfilling our objectives. But these conditions are often wholly arbitrary, capable of being overcome with the right degrees of determination and self-reliance, themes explored in director Sebastián Lelio’s new romantic drama, “Disobedience” (web site, trailer).
When a much-beloved but aging and frail rav (Anton Lesser) passes on, the faithful of his orthodox London synagogue are devastated. The usual and customary ceremonies acknowledging his death, celebrating his life and preparing for his successor are carried out with the expected speed, dignity and efficiency. Everything goes as it’s supposed to. But, in the midst of all this, an unexpected wrinkle pops up: The rabbi’s only child, his daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz), returns to London from New York, where she’s spent years working as a professional photographer.
Ronit’s return comes as a surprise, because she left suddenly, without notice, and has not kept in touch with anyone since her unexpected departure. In fact, most of her father’s friends and associates suspected, given how she left and has remained incommunicado, that they would never hear from her again. But, being a dutiful daughter, she believes that coming home to honor her father is the right thing to do.
On some level, Ronit is uncomfortable about her return, not sure how she will be received. But she soon finds a warmer-than-expected reception, especially from the two friends with whom she was closest while growing up, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and Esti (Rachel McAdams). Dovid, who appears to be the rav’s most likely successor, is devout in all he does, and Esti, a school teacher, loves her work. They’ve also married since Ronit’s departure, news that takes the prodigal daughter by surprise – especially since one of them also played a part in her leaving.
So why did Ronit head to New York? As it turns out, she and Esti were strongly attracted to one another, despite orthodox taboos against a romance such as theirs. Their forbidden relationship, once exposed, caused great distress for her father and led to quite an uproar in the congregation. Ronit saw no option but to move away, though she never forgot the love she left behind – which is why the revelation of Esti’s marriage to Dovid comes as quite a shock. But, before long, Ronit learns that the embers of their romance have not cooled. In fact, Ronit’s return marks the rekindling of an old flame, one whose heat won’t be denied this time.
As events play out, circumstances grow progressively more complicated. Ronit and Esti become closer, an intimacy that increasingly drives a wedge between Dovid and his wife. The marriage becomes strained, and Dovid wonders whether he’ll be allowed to ascend as the rav’s successor. At the same time, though, he begins to question his faith and whether the constraints of its customs and traditions are something he can live with, especially once he sees the genuine affection that’s blossoming between his two longtime friends. Is the “disobedience” of Ronit and Esti really as “bad” as it’s alleged to be? The circumstances raise some hard questions for all concerned, particularly whether they’ll be able to continue leading the lives they always have or if they’ll be forced into adopting new ways of living more in line with their true selves.
Love, as most of us are aware, tends to know no bounds, regardless of the restrictions we may try to place upon it. That’s true even in the most conservative of communities. Such circumstances are chiefly the product of the beliefs that underlie them. But beliefs can be changed just as easily as they’re formed; it’s letting go of them that can be the hard part, possible though it is.
Despite the prevailing sanctions against relationships like this, Ronit and Esti – on some level – believe that forging a bond such as theirs is entirely possible. The only thing that has been holding them back is the scrutiny of their community, something that they’re free to choose to ignore if they so decide. Granted, such a radically decisive act may not be easy, especially since it’s likely to lead to ostracism from their tribe, but it’s fundamentally not impossible. Because they possess the powers of choice and free will, they have the wherewithal to make their dream come true – if they choose to do so. Should they, however, they’re likely to find out what it means to be their true selves for perhaps the first time in their lives.
While same-sex relationships have generally become more accepted in recent years, there are still segments of society where they’re frowned upon and where taking steps to initiate them represents an act of heroic defiance. Thankfully, there are films that aptly illustrate the possibilities in this regard. In addition to “Disobedience,” other offerings, such as the recently released “God’s Own Country” (2017), the Academy Award-winning “Moonlight” (2016) and the charming romantic comedy “Touch of Pink” (2004), examine what it’s like for those living under restricted social conditions to have the faith, confidence and courage to boldly pursue alternate romantic arrangements, regardless of what others might think, to help them fulfill their hearts’ desire.
However, while the message of this alternative love story is indeed a valid one, the execution is a bit off at times. Despite fine performances, the film sometimes gets tripped up on its pacing and direction, meandering a little too much for its own good. Although nuance is fine, occasionally it can be overdone, and, in the case of “Disobedience,” a less cluttered, more succinct approach would have made this offering work better. Overall it’s not bad; it’s just not outstanding.
Finding the love of one’s life might not always be easy, but the satisfaction it yields when we truly find it is often beyond measure. If we hope to attain it, though, we must have the courage and forthrightness to push aside whatever stands in our way. To do less is to deny ourselves one of the greatest gifts life has to offer, and I can think of few things that are more disobedient than that.
A full review is available by clicking here.
A Man of His Word
In an age as cynical as ours, it’s rare to come upon someone who genuinely appears to say what he means and mean what he says. That’s especially true for those in positions of authority; their statements often ring hollow or are rife with hypocrisy. So it’s indeed refreshing to find out that there are those out there who defy the odds, a subject explored in the new Wim Wenders documentary, “Pope Francis – A Man of His Word” (web site, trailer).
Given the unprecedented access that the filmmakers were granted to the Pontiff, this documentary represents an unprecedented production. Through a series of interviews with His Holiness, as well as footage from many of his public appearances, director Wenders pieces together a comprehensive composite of the Pope’s views on a variety of spiritual and secular subjects, many of which themselves represent fundamentally unprecedented changes in direction for a religious institution that has resisted change and stifled in its outlooks for ages.
Over the course of the film, the director intercuts footage of the Holy Father with re-created segments depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the figure who inspired Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to choose his adopted name upon his ascendancy to the papacy. Like his namesake, Pope Francis has followed an unprecedented path of his own. As the first Jesuit and the first pope from the Americas to be selected to fill the role of pontiff, he broke many long-established traditions just by being who he is. Like his inspiration, Francis has also symbolically embraced a life of humility and poverty, being of service to those less fortunate and in need of compassion. Six years into his papacy, he still adheres to these ideals and preaches their attributes to others.
More than that, though, the Pope has stepped off the lofty pedestal many of his predecessors refused to leave, candidly addressing topics that the Church has seldom broached. For instance, Francis has been an outspoken advocate for protecting the environment, regularly proclaiming that we are the stewards of God’s creation – and that we’ve been seriously failing in that role. Likewise, he has expressed views on employment, workers’ rights, family life, gays and other subjects that have typically not been on the agendas of popes before him. In that sense, he has changed the nature of the papacy to one that believes of its fundamental importance of being in the world, not above it looking down from some self-important ivory tower.
Francis has also backed up his words with actions. For example, his travels routinely take him to places where previous pontiffs would not tread, such as prisons, refugee camps and illness-ridden field hospitals. Like his namesake and in the spirit of Jesus, he has endeavored to reach out to those most in need of assistance. At the same time, however, he’s completely comfortable in the presence of world leaders, many of whom are depicted in the film and to whom he has no hesitation in frankly conveying his views. Through his acts and deeds, he clearly demonstrates what it means to be a man of his word.
Of course, Francis has not ignored the spiritual side of life, either. Through his interviews in the film, he expresses the absolute need for forging a profound sense of divine connectedness. But, in doing so, he stresses the importance of a connection that has practical implications, seeing the divine in everyday life and situations and not just in abstract, theoretical terms that have little relevance. He even encourages adopting qualities atypical of many religious figures, such as approaching life with a sense of humor, something rarely preached from the pulpit.
While many of the questions posed to the pontiff are admittedly somewhat on the softball side and some of his responses are indeed sermon-esque, most of his insights are nevertheless quite candid, even when couched in metaphorical or humorous terms. What’s more, the film offers little information on the background and private life of the man behind the robe, but its clear, concise, ever-respectful presentation of his outlooks and their importance for the world are spot-on. This is truly worthwhile viewing, regardless of whether or not you’re Catholic.
At the risk of playing devil’s advocate, some have questioned the motives of this pope – on both sides of the ideological spectrum – and, in light of that, it’s always possible that he might merely be a good actor. However, in watching this film, it’s pretty easy to see the apparent sincerity in his words and expressions, that he’s the real deal and someone whose insights can truly be trusted. Let us hope that’s really the case.
A full review will appear in the near future by clicking here.
An Esteemed Honor
I’m thrilled to announce that my latest title, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies, has been named a finalist in the New Age Nonfiction category of the 12th annual National Indie Excellence Awards competition! See a list of all the finalists in all categories by clicking here. Third Real thus joins its companion title, Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies, as an honoree in this competition, having taken the top prize in this category in the NIEA’s 10th annual competition, the winners of which can be found by clicking here. I’m truly humbled by this honor.
Join Us for Movies with Meaning This Week
Join host Frankie Picasso and me for the next edition of Movies with Meaning on The Good Media Network’s Frankiesense & More broadcast on Thursday, May 31, at 1 pm ET. We’ll discuss a number of new movie releases and other film-related news. For the video version, tune in on Facebook Live by clicking here. And, for the audio only podcast edition, check out The Good Media Network’s home page by clicking here. Join us for some fun movie chat!
Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.