Set in a strict Orthodox Jewish community outside London, the new movie Disobedience is about forbidden love and yearning passion. Rachel Weisz plays Ronit, a woman who was sent away from the community when she was just a teenager because of a romantic relationship with her friend Esti, played as an adult by Rachel McAdams. When Ronit’s father, a respected rabbi, passes away she returns for the funeral for the first time in decades.
Esti is now married to Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), himself a rabbi, but Ronit’s return reawakens the passion she felt all those years ago, a passion that’s never been matched since. The two rekindle their illicit affair, causing upset in the marriage of Esti and Dovid as well as the community as a whole. Both women, though, are tired of living the lie and suppressing the feelings they had so long ago, challenging the norms they’ve been expected to either conform to or live outside of.
The first and only poster is all about conveying the emotion at the core of the central relationship in the story and so uses a single closeup image of Ronit and Esti passionately kissing, both with their eyes open. That detail seems to be meant to share the surprise and love they feel for each other.
Ronit is returning home at the beginning of the trailer because her father has just passed away. When she visits Dovid she encounters Esti, the two now married. There are fears Ronit will be a distraction to Esti and it’s shown that the two have some kind of history that goes beyond mere friendship. That relationship is in fact why Ronit was sent away from the community and her return seems to be upsetting the delicate order of things. It’s not long before she’s chafing against the ideas of “honor” that everyone claims to hold dear, nor is it long before the two women are spending unsupervised time together, leading to a rekindling of their affair.
Based on what’s shown here the story has a lot to do with being true to who you are no matter the repressive structures placed around you. That’s a powerful message, made all the more so by the performances of Weisz and McAdams. There’s sure to be some backlash here from a few communities, but that’s to be expected anytime you question the traditions inherent in religion.
Online and Social
Bleecker Street gave the film a minimalist official website featuring just the trailer a a few clips, headshots of the leads, a collection of positive review pull quote and a story synopsis. That site also features links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for the film.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
The first TV spot boiled down the value proposition and message to the audience as being the forbidden relationship between Ronit and Esti. We get that they are rekindling a romance that was stifled long ago and that Ronit’s return is going to cause changes in the relationship between Esti and her husband.
Media and Publicity
A first look photo was released in advance of its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival. Bleecker Street picked it up shortly after the festival ended. Just prior to hitting theaters the movie also screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Both actresses talked here about striving to not make the lesbian love scenes in the film exploitative or cliched. There were other similar interviews, especially with Weisz, in other LGBTQ publications.
An extensive interview with Weisz, who also served as a producer on the film, appeared the week before release and allowed her to talk about working with McAdams, researching lesbian literature, her familiarity with the kind of Orthodox community portrayed here and much more.
While the forbidden lesbian love story has certainly been a focus of the campaign, the bigger point being sold here is one of being true to who you are and breaking free of society’s definition of “acceptable.” That’s a very timely message in 2018.
Outside of that even, it’s hard not to be sold on anything featuring these two actresses, two of the finest working today. Each looks like they give emotional performances full of both repressed feelings and the freedom that comes from coming out from under that repression. Those performances are the key selling point here, hence the focus on the two of them on the poster and elsewhere.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.