Meewella | Critic

According to P

Tag: Matthew Herbert

QuickView: Disobedience (2017)

“So, what is this thing? Man? Woman? It is a being with the power to disobey. Alone among all the creatures we have free will. We hang suspended between the clarity of the angels and the desires of the beasts.”

Rav Krushka

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s thoughtful drama, adapted from a novel by Naomi Alderman, follows Ronit as she returns to an Orthodox Jewish community in London after her estranged father’s death, stirring emotions when reunited with her childhood best friend. Ronit’s past emerges naturally from the narrative which is as much about losing a community as it is about religion and temptation. Food plays a central cultural role and we see in Rachel Weisz’s face the transportive flavours conjuring childhood memories. Disobedience takes a nuanced and restrained approach to religious trauma, directly challenging the denial of choice and freedom to those raised within rigid belief systems whilst avoiding the temptation to vilify the community itself. Alessandro Nivola is striking in his gentle supportiveness, a faithful disciple of Ronit’s father who has become a respected rabbi, yet he bristles with anger when his authority is challenged. Indeed restraint is evident throughout Disobedience, the film’s muted colour palette fitting an environment in which conflicts are rarely voiced directly. Returning to London reinforces the cost of Ronit’s escape which is losing an entire community and particularly her friend Esti. Diegetic use of The Cure’s Lovesong during a pivotal scene serves a dual purpose with the lyric “You make me feel like I am home again.” Although we experience events largely through Ronit’s perspective, it is Esti who provides the story arc as Ronit’s return forces her to grapple with her own decision to remain in the community. Disobedience may not offer the cathartic relief that some former believers might desire, but it is more meaningful as a result — it ventures beyond mere escapism to underscore the cost of that escape.


QuickView: The Wonder (2022)

“That’s a story, Kitty. I’m looking for facts.”

Lib Wright

Sebastian Lelio’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel is a character study of a Nightingale nurse hired by a remote Irish village to observe a child who has apparently survived for months without eating. At first The Wonder seems set up for a confrontation between rationality and religion, Florence Pugh’s Lib Wright dismissing the claim outright as impossible whilst the committee that hired her have various vested interests in the apparent miracle, be it scientific or religious. In fact, the film is more about the risk of unshakeable certainty (whatever its source) rather than the flexibility that makes communal life possible. Lelio chooses to open the film with a bold Brechtian alienation device (inspired by Goddard’s opening to Le Mepris), drawing the audience’s attention not only to the fact that this is a story, but also that it is about stories — specifically the the fictions small and large which drive us, and the selective facts we choose to craft the story of our identity. Pugh is wonderful as the nurse, initially assured in her knowledge but uncomfortable as an outsider, these facets of her performance becoming inverted the more time she spends around the mistrustful villagers (“What right does a stranger have to come between a child and its people?” she is scolded). The Wonder features a seasoned supporting cast, though only consummate character actor Toby Jones stands out as the village physician. With a limited and straightforward plot, ultimately one’s view of the film will depend on one’s appreciation for the meta-narrative around the power and necessity of stories in our lives, as Lib discovers both the danger and utility of belief in such tales.


"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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