In the Dark: A story of love interrupted and rekindled

Rachel Wesiz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola in Disobedience


Starring: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams

Directed by: Sebastian Lelio

Rated: R

Earlier this year, director Sebastian Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” took home the Best Foreign Film Oscar, and he’s in the midst of remaking “Gloria” with Julianne Moore taking on the iconic Gena Rowlands role. Somewhere in between, he managed to direct and write (along with Rebecca Lenkiewicz) this adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s novel.

The themes of love and faith seem slender threads to hang a feature film on these days, and that would probably be the case with this save for the performances from the leads and Rachel Weisz in particular as a New York photographer who returns to London to her Orthodox Jewish community after learning her father, its religious leader, has died.

For Ronnie – or Ronit, as she was known once – it’s a hard decision after leaving abruptly many years before. Some, like her cousin Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), are happy to see her, while others shun her, hardly hiding their disdain.

As the story unfolds in little vignettes, we learn her reason for leaving was her attraction to her best friend, Esti (Rachel McAdams), and that they were once discovered by her father. To complicate matters, Esti is now married to Dovid and is a devoted wife. But Ronit’s return disrupts all of their lives.

Lelio focuses on the here and now with his characters: how Esti reacts to Ronit’s coming back and the exploration and rekindling of her feelings for her. In this respect, there is not enough backstory or true character development for her and for Ronit. Both remain ciphers even as they begin to pick up where they left off all those years ago.

Esti’s relationship with Dovid is also as closeted as the community they live in. They seem to enjoy a good relationship and some tenderness, but without revealing too much to one another or sharing a true intimacy.

Much has been made of a certain sex scene that takes place in this. It’s handled with gentleness and respect is all I can say, and without a hint of titillation as poor Weisz had to keep reciting to late night talk show hosts while promoting the movie. It’s no big deal, and frankly, just what you would expect from two people who never stopped loving each other and thought they’d never see one another again.

Both Rachels — Weisz and McAdams — are great in this. They really don’t have a lot to work with, but it doesn’t seem to present a challenge to either actress. Likewise, Nivola handles his role as the bewildered husband nicely juxtaposed with his community’s desire for him to take over as its religious leader.

This setup leads to one of the final scenes that packs all the pent up emotions of these characters into one moment, and though the actual ending feels unresolved, it leaves the door open to possibilities — something these three characters may be experiencing for the first time, however bittersweet it may be.

Playing in Houston theaters now.