Freedom and Commitment: Disobedience?
Ronit Arushka (Rachel Weisz) and Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams) were involved in a friendship in their early youth, which – because of its extreme intimacy – was not appreciated by their Jewish Orthodox community. Ronit, now a sophisticated soft beauty, moved to New York where she became a photographer, while Esti, now an attractive but still a relatively plain housewife and teacher at a local school in Hendon, England, seemed to be quite happy with her life.
The relative peace in the lives of Ronit and Esti became radically disrupted when Ronit’s father Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser) suddenly passed away. As a rabbi in the Synagogue he was just explaining before the congregation how humans with their freedom of choice differed from purely spiritual angels and from animals with their instinctual desires when he collapsed and died soon afterwards.
Ronit felt she had to return because – in spite of their earlier differences – she did love her father and as her mother had died earlier, she was the supposed heir of his estate. She, nevertheless, dreaded to come back to the customs and religious duties of the Jewish Orthodox community. At the funeral reception she was received with cool apprehension.
Esti, for her part, was greatly upset upon Ronit’s arrival as it reignited her attraction to her. She, however, was now married and accepted as an integral part of this community. Later during a joyous dinner a pall was cast over the table when she suddenly expressed her feeling against the custom of women having to give up their last names at marriage.
Ronit, feeling ill at ease, left the house only to be followed by Esti. They walked together for some time. Eventually they came to an empty playground and their passions got the better of them. Just as this event took place, a couple from the congregation appeared and exclaimed, isn’t that Ronit and Esti.
The husband of Esti, Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nicola), was completely unaware of Esti’s dismay, even though family and friends found the situation more or less untenable. Everyone apparently knew that Ronit and Esti had crossed the line as far as their religion was concerned with the apparent exception of Dovid.
When Ronit was advised by her uncle Moshe Hartog (Allan Corduner) that her father, with whom she had had little contact, had bequeathed all his belongings and estate to the synagogue, she realized there was no further reason for her to stay. She was surprised at the passion that Esti still appeared to have for her, but received it with pleasure. Director Sebastian Lelio presents us with the dilemma. What was Esti going to do? Because of Esti’s relationship with Ronit her husband Dovid felt he could no longer become a rabbi, so: was Esti going to stay with him after all? She had just learned that she was with child. But she had demanded her freedom from Dovid and he had granted it to her. He understood that Esti was not happy with their marriage. Was she going to renounce it and return to New York with Ronit? What to do with her passionate love for Ronit? Perhaps Dovid’s decision to refuse the rabbiate would change her mind and she would stay with him.
The film delves into the complexities of intimate relationships, especially gay relationships, implicit when occurring within a strictly regulated culture such as Jewish Orthodoxy. Perhaps greater liberalization is needed with respect to traditional customs and religious belief? With Rabbi Krushka’s sermon of freedom of choice in mind we wonder what Esti’s decision will be. To be human is to choose and to choose is to be free.
director : Sebastian Lelio
producers: Frida Terresblanco, Ed Guiney and Rachel Weisz
screenplay: Sebastian Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz adaptation from novel by Naomi Alderman
runtime: 114 minutes
photography: Danny Cohen BSC
editor: Nathan Nugent
music: Matthew Herbert
casting: Nine Gold
production: Film Nation Entertainment, Film4, Element Pictures LC6Prodjuctions and Braven Film
distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing