Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


Disobedience is a quiet, strong movie that pierces convention in many ways. The risks it takes are delivered with subtle use of gestures and voice. Director Sebastian Lelio, his team, and a fine cast have delivered an unusually complex story in a provocative way.

Ronit, a professional photographer in New York, has returned to London’s orthodox Jewish community to attend the funeral of her father Rav Kruschka (Anton Kesser). She is greeted with widespread disdain by those who believe she deserted him. Two old friends welcome this woman they once knew so well. It is the three of them who will deliver the complicated emotions of the movie with quiet skill that holds our attention.

Ronit (Rachel Weisz) and Esti (Rachel McAdams) had experienced attraction to each other as teenagers and Ronit is astonished to find that Esti has married their old friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). The two women find their mutual attraction very much alive and it unfolds against the anger of the orthodox community. Confusion engulfs the three of them.

That confusion is born of the anger of the tightly knit religious community, of Dovid’s understandable distress, and of the deep honesty of each of the women who love each other despite the rigidity that surrounds them. As their physical affair unfolds, they show us the confines of the community that Ronit once ran from and Esti has accepted. We watch three adults work toward a decision in a culture with strict rules for thinking and behavior.

Each of the women delivers her prevailing philosophy of life. Ronit, who couldn’t stand the conformity of the orthodox community, fled to New York to escape her resentment. The anger resurfaces as soon as she returns to London. Esti, who shares so much of Ronit’s bright spirit, falls into deep confusion – to stay in loyalty to husband and orthodoxy or to flee with her friend.

Esti, after all, is married, in a restrained and acceptable kind of way, to Dovid who is a rising power in the consuming culture of the orthodox faith. It is all heightened by the affair, both emotional and physical that unfolds between Esti and Ronit. In lesser hands, all this could easily have been a genuine misfire. Delivery without histrionics by Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, and Alessandro Nivola, leaves us free to sink into their dilemma with genuine curiosity.

What is the role of a deeply strict religious culture in a modern society that celebrates personal freedom? What happens when smart young adults who grew up in that culture are lured by the new flexibility of the modern world? The absence of villains here is what makes this movie provocative. Because the acting is so good, we are free to explore all the questions they are asking. Do I stay, or do I go? Which rules: loyalty or freedom? Three exceptional actors lead us in that search while remaining honorable and kind.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Disobedience
Word Count : 494
Running Time : 1:54
Rating : R
Date : May 13, 2018

This review was posted on May 13, 2018, in Drama, Romance.

The Guardians

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The GuardiansThe Guardians is an astonishingly beautiful movie. In the hands of French writer/director Xavier Beauvois and writer Marie-Julie Maille, their movie becomes art. Just sink in and feel the effects of the silences and colors as they envelop what is unfolding on screen. This story is an important piece of history seen through the eyes of women.

The time is 1915, World War I. In France, men were leaving the farms that were the gut of their country to go to war. The focus here is the huge acreage of the Abbott farm. In the absence of the men, Hortense Abbott (Nathalie Baye) is running the farm with her daughter Solange (Laura Smet) and a very few others. She hires Francine (Iris Bry), a lone woman with a deep work ethic, to help with the coming harvest.

There it begins. Raking, seeding, and harvesting – all with hand tools – rakes and sickles. In that pre-machine age the physical strength of women vs that of their absent men is tested to its limits. The first hour concentrates on filming this work under the changing light of dawn, midday, and dusk. The audience gains a deep understanding of these women and their work. They must grow the grain, harvest it, and sell it or they will lose the farm while the men are at war.

After we have been shown the pressures and the risks, we see the women begin to interact. When Francine, the only non-family member, falls for Hortense’s son Georges (Cyril Descours), a more familiar movie plot unfolds. In a wide misunderstanding, the family turns on Francine while Georges is at war.

Everyone is weakening under the relentless physical work while emotional issues have injected anger and judgement into the family. Even as the movie switches from the physical toll to unfolding personal dramas, the glorious, changing light delivers magic to the audience. For the first time someone has made a movie about a war fought by men without making us endure battle scenes. What we learn is that when the men went off in that pre-industrial age, the women had to hold the country together by feeding it. As it nears the end, we realize that WWI was the catalyst that eliminated farming by hand as the dominant feature of the world’s culture.

Nathalie Baye is the center strength of the story. She leads the women in the demands of their overwhelming physical work with quiet but absolute authority and yet delivers the fragility that is hiding right under her surface. Iris Bry’s Francine, who has been quiet as the non-family new hire, shows us the strength of a woman when it is demanded. In her fine performance, she is also the perfect symbol of how World War I changed the world’s culture forever. And as we watch, the women, the farm, and the vanishing culture are all bathed in a quiet, changing light that reduces the audience to appreciative silence.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Guardians
Word count : 497
Running time : 2:18
Rating : R
Date : May 6, 2018


This review was posted on May 5, 2018, in Drama.