I like a film that makes you feel a bit emotionally wrung out by the end. Directed by Chilean Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman) and his first English-language film, this is a rich and absorbing story about religion, family and independence.
Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns from New York to London on the death of her father, Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser), a man revered and loved by his community and synagogue. She stays in the home of childhood friend Dovid (Allesandro Nivola), an acolyte of her father and seen by many to be the one to fill his place in the community. Ronit is an outcast, living independently as a photographer in New York and shunned by her father and family. Slowly, we begin to understand what is at the heart of her ‘disobedience’ as she reunites with former love Esti (Rachel McAdams). Ronit’s arrival is a catalyst for an inexorable change that will affect them all.
Nivola, McAdams and Weisz are outstanding; completely believable as three friends having to weigh up the value of individuality and friendship against the weighty expectations of a religious way of life that permeates every moment of every day. I don’t know a lot about Jewish orthodoxy. It seems a very masculine religion with the power within the synagogue and ritual given to men. There are many rules and I can see the comfort in such structure and defined expectation. There would never be a doubt about your role, the difficulty comes when you want to make a different choice.
For Ronit, it has meant separation from family and community. For Dovid, who seems to have always been given what he needs, he only becomes aware of his entitlement when Esti finds her voice. Lelio handles it all with reverence and care, as he did with A Fantastic Woman, another film about being shunned by society. He lets the actor shine through and takes time to build character and motive.
The ending is nicely done. I expected it to end a scene earlier than it did but I wasn’t disappointed with the less ambiguous, more uplifting conclusion.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.