First Hit: Extremely well-acted film about how antiquated thinking can split families and a loving relationship.
Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) is a photographer in New York City. As we meet her, she's photographing a tattooed man.
She suddenly has to leave New York and we see her as deeply anxious. She arrives in a small town Orthodox Jewish community in England because her father, Rabbi Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser) has died suddenly. She did not know he was ill with pneumonia. The mystery is set with this scene; as she enters Dovid and Esti Kuperman’s (Alessandro Nivola and Rachel McAdams respectively) home where they are honoring Rav’s death, there is a strong silent judgmental air as she enters the house and each room.
The way this movie is filmed, we see her both as slightly detached from the people around her and intensely engaged. There is a depth of sadness in her character.
There is an especially strong sense of a subject not discussed when Ronit and Esti are together. Dovid was Rav’s specially selected heir apparent to be head rabbi of the local temple. The audience slowly learns that Ronit’s absence and rejection by the community is partially due to a lesbian romance with Esti when they were very young.
Scene after scene the community rejects Ronit because of her past and their passive aggressive closed-minded behavior is a key subject of the film.
The stark, clean way this film is shot adds to its intense beauty. The slow building of the way we learn about their previous relationship, how the community saw this forbidden relationship, and how the love still burns for each of them is outstanding.
Although their hotel lovemaking scene is what is advertised, it’s the entire story around it that makes this scene and this film work.
This film also exposes the lack of acceptance of human love by her family and friends and the Orthodox Jewish community.
Weisz is amazing in this film. She is an incredibly strong actress and she puts herself into roles that challenge her and the role of women (think My Cousin Rachel and this film to name two) in their communities. McAdams is a revelation in this role. Her subtly in revealing her love in this film was fantastic. I loved how she fiddled with her wig as it showed a level of unsurity. Nivola was wonderful as the conflicted rabbi who loved his wife Esti, Ronit, and his Jewish faith. Sebastian Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz wrote an detailed and effective screenplay that got to the spirit and heart of the matter is a wonderful way. Lelio had a clear vision in his direction of this story and cast. It was clean and was based on characters that had depth.
Overall: This is one of the best films this year.