Disobedience Sex Scene Required a Delicate Approach

Disobedience's Sebastián Lelio explains the approach for the visceral lesbian sex scene with Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams.

This weekend’s Disobedience is one of the first truly great films we’ve seen in 2018. Sophisticated, layered, and natural, as relayed in our review, the film unpacks the universal scars of leaving home in a nevertheless specific way: through the lens of an LGBTQ relationship inside an extremely conservative Orthodox Jewish community. In this vein, Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams play two women who were best friends, and something more, in their girlhood until discovery and scandal tore them apart. Whereas Weisz’s Ronit left home (or was banished from it; it’s hard to say), Esti stayed behind and married a good man—and denied her true self.

That is until she and Ronit finally cross paths again and allow themselves a moment of genuine intimacy in what is already Disobedience’s most talked about scene: Ronit and Esti alone in a hotel room. It is the only sequence in which McAdams’ character takes off her wig in front of anyone other than her husband (Alessandro Nivola), and it is the only time she and Ronit are allowed to have deliberate, and fairly graphic by American cinema standards, contact. It is a lengthy love scene that is meant to push boundaries, even with its lack of nudity yet belabored image of shared spitting. Given the directness of the sequence, which is the centerpiece of the film, it also needed to be broached our interview with the film’s director, Seabastián Lelio. Lelio, who is fresh off his Oscar winning A Fantastic Woman, gave a thoughtful and detailed answer about how the sequence was designed, storyboarded, and met every step of the way with approval by Weisz and McAdams, who were partners in what would and would not be seen.

“That was very organic,” Lelio told us. “It was a long conversation. I always knew that the hotel scene, the big love scene, was the heart of the film. I knew it had to be long. It was all about duration, I mean screen time. At the same time, I really wanted to explore the possibility of portraying a very erotic and urgent encounter without nudity, so how to do that. Then I storyboarded everything, and I presented the idea to them, and we were all in agreement. I had this idea of instead of showing skin we’d find very specific acts that we rarely see on screen or in these kind of films and go for them. That’s why I think that scene has a very particular strong identity.”

For Lelio the sequence is crucial to both of their arcs, which involves each remembering and reconnecting with the full picture of their identity—identities that have been fractured more or less their entire adult lives.

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Said Lelio, “I think they were young and probably inexperienced. I think what really defined their lives, in a certain way, or marked them, is the fact that Ronit escaped, or was expelled or whatever, but she ran away from there. By doing that… she could create her own persona, but she lost touch with her origins. You cannot live like that. If you want to be original, you have to be in touch with the origin. That’s where the word comes from. She has that dichotomy. She carries that paradox within herself.

“On the other hand, her counterpart, her reverse, the reverse of her existence, which is Rachel McAdams’ character, Esti, who stayed. She repressed her sexuality and denied it. By doing so, she lost contact with that aspect. We have two women that are somehow, that have lost an important part of what constitutes their personality. With this re-encounter, they manage to re-integrate those areas. Ronit recovers somehow her origins, and Esti gets back in touch with who she really is sexually. “

We’ll have our full interview with Lelio next week, but in the meantime, you can check out Disobedience, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, in limited release right now.