Rachel Weisz Rachel McAdams Alessandro Nivola
Disobedience versus free will is the issue in this production of Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio, following upon his hit last year, A Fantastic Woman(Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards). Ronit Krushka (Weisz) is returning to Israel after the death of her father, but with a significant back-story. We see her interactions with the hometown people rather awkward, beginning with her adoptive brother, David Kuperman (Nivola), who is in line to take the place of her father as the Rabbi. She apparently left town abruptly years before, never to be heard from again, until she learns of her father’s death. She seems to have had the reputation of a “wild child”, but the origin of this story is never explicated.
Her visit creates consternation in the town, and it’s clear no one seems to know what to make of her. They know she has made a life for herself in New York as a photographer, and all kinds of fantasies stem from that slight piece. We learn that she, David, and a woman named Esti (McAdams) were very close friends in their youth, and then she is surprised when she is told that David and Esti were married.
As in A Fantastic Woman, director Sebastian Lilio is skillful in doling out little pieces of information along the way that help make sense of what is happening in the drama. That is, we learn more about the relationships among the three main characters, the role the esteemed Rabbi Kuperman played, and the source of the ambivalence Ronit has for him.
What plays out is a kind of feminine rebellion against patriarchy, and Lilio knows just how to notch up the tension in the viewer so that fundamental principles come to the fore. And he throws in a little confusion for good measure. The esteemed rabbi went to great lengths to emphasize how humans are free to choose between angels and the desires of the beasts. In that light, two characters have to weigh their options in leaving or staying. Says one, “It’s easier to leave, isn’t it”, and the reply is, “No, it isn’t.”
The rewarding part in all this is that a main character develops understanding based on what he hears and observes and is able to alter behavior accordingly. No easy job, considering the stakes.
The actors are superb. Rachel Weisz is able to conjure up all the mysteriousness of a character while keeping her genuine and real. McAdams is a perfect foil in her limited but keen perception, and the ability to show her character’s increasing realizations. As the male in this drama, Alessandro Nivola exemplifies the male in such a conflict who is able to glean the truth and comport himself accordingly.
Lilio’s account is very slow in building up to the essential elements and excitement of the story, and although the reward is well worth waiting for, perhaps too much time is spent on introducing the Ronit character and the explosive potential she embodies.
An intriguing kind of rebellion against the patriarchy in a traditional Jewish culture.