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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Sebastian Lelio’s Disobedience, from the novel by Naomi Alderman, is a transfixing consideration of love, faith, sexuality and personal freedom within the insular confines of a London Orthodox Jewish community.
The film opens with frail Rav Kruschka abruptly dropping dead while delivering a fiery sermon at a North London synagogue about the eternal choice of human beings, between the sanctity of the angels and the desires of the beast. His estranged daughter Ronit gets a call informing her of his passing in New York, where she has a career as an edgy portrait photographer. Ronit's first instinct is to numb the pain with alcohol, anonymous sex and the distractions of an ice-skating rink. But she gathers her strength and flies home to pay her respects.
Dovid a childhood friend and the Rav's most gifted student, greets the unexpected Ronit somewhat stiffly. Inside the house, other community members barely conceal their disdain. Her wild raven hair and boho-chic clothing make Ronit look like a foreigner among the Orthodox women in their plain black garments and synthetic wigs. Clearly, her exit from the community was not on ideal terms. Only her good-humoured Aunt Fruma seems pleased to see her, while her Uncle Moshe is more distant. Among the women is Esti, who completed an inseparable trio with Ronit and Dovid in their youth but now remains standoffish. Ronit is taken aback to learn that they have married, and Esti is visibly uncomfortable to have her staying in their home.
Ronit takes pleasure in expressing worldly attitudes that shock the community, notably in her humorously spiky outbursts during a Shabbat dinner. And Dovid shows his strength of character by serving as a diplomatic buffer. She is hurt to read an obituary stating that he left behind no children. That perhaps prepares her for the news that the Rav left his entire estate to the synagogue. But as Ronit re-enters her family home, accompanied by Esti, and surveys the sad evidence of her father's illness, the depth of her grief becomes apparent.