Mixed media: film
Disobedience (114 minutes) Directed and co-written by Sebastián Lelio
When her father keels over as he’s delivering a sermon in his north London synagogue, Ronit, now a photographer in New York, returns home for his funeral. She hasn’t seen him, or anyone from her orthodox community, for 20 years or so – and she’s not welcome. Not since her father discovered she was in a sexual relationship with her best friend Esti.
Her old friend Dovid is friendly, even though she learns he’s expected to become the new rabbi. She also learns that he’s married to Esti, now a teacher in an orthodox girls’ school, and bewigged, observant and dutiful.
It’s a potentially fraught set-up, both in the real world, and for a filmmaker, but Lelio handles it with humanity and great sensitivity. The two women and Dovid all care for each other. He is a principled, loving man, mentored by Ronit’s father, and does everything he can for Ronit. We get the sense of security and solidarity, particularly amongst men, that belonging in the community gives; but also its narrowness and strictures and what it means not to belong. Ronit is impervious to the hostility towards her, but for Esti their mutual attraction threatens her existence in the community. It threatens Dovid too – his marriage, and his calling.
Lelio, writer-director of A Fantastic Woman, has made another compassionate film about the belief and courage it can take to be true to oneself and live with passion.
The Workshop (113 minutes) Directed and co-written by Laurent Cantet
In 2001 Cantet made the remarkable Time Out, about a forty-something family man unable to admit he’d lost his job. His latest also explores the trauma of unemployment – on a jobless white working-class youth in a coastal town that once proudly built massive ships. This is La Ciotat, near Marseilles, whose yards once employed 10,000.
Somehow, Antoine, with other unemployed youth from the town, has been chosen to attend a creative writing course, run by Olivia, a middle-class Parisian writer of off-beat crime thrillers. The aim is to jointly write a novel set in their town. Four of the youngsters are of North African descent, one is from central Africa, and another boy is white.
Though they find Olivia a little grand, at first all goes well. They’re bright, speak their minds, and come to agree they will work on a murder mystery. Antoine even reads one of Olivia’s books, and tells his little sister that it’s good. Yet when Malika, whose North African grandfather had worked in the yards, suggests they could bring in the historical fight to save the shipyards, Antoine dismisses this is as too noble and political. What we don’t appreciate is how fragile his self-esteem is, and how disenchanted he is.
This is a cleverly constructed film, a thriller about writing a thriller, a story about the stories we’re told and can tell. It’s about feeling you belong somewhere or don’t, about social and political division, about deindustrialization and racism, about Europe today. ★★★✩✩
Words: Malcolm Lewis