Out of all the movies that launched at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, lesbian drama Disobedience took critics' breath away for one intriguing reason. While its compelling narrative and talented cast resonated with viewers, it was the erotic sex scene between Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams that got everyone talking. (Spitting was involved, if that's any indication of how intense it was).
Even though director Sebastián Lelio has made critically acclaimed female-led films, men are never an ideal source when it comes to choreographing lesbian lovemaking. But with #Disobedience, Lelio took the passionate scene between Ronit (Weisz) and Esti (McAdams) with great sensitivity. Therefore, could the upcoming movie steer clear of controversy and criticism that other lesbian films have faced?
Avoiding Exploitation And The Blue Is The Warmest Color Debacle
When you hear the title Blue Is the Warmest Color, its graphic and ultra-divisive girl-on-girl action immediately comes to mind. It was claimed to be completely unrealistic and uncomfortable to watch, which is a typical result of the male gaze. At TIFF, Disobedience was referred to as "Jew Is the Warmest Color" (due to being set in an Orthodox Jewish community), but Lelio told IndieWire that his movie's sex scene is "a little less problematic."
Lelio's script didn't dive into much detail about the six-minute sexcapade, but he still had a distinct vision in mind:
"I explained that, for me, that scene was the heart of the film. It had to be long. It was all about duration. We had to find very specific acts for them to do, because the real force of the scene would come out of that specificity. That’s why it’s not a generic sex scene. We could make the scene unique with the hyper-specificity of bold moments that avoided being exploitative."
Most importantly, while figuring it all out, the director contacted his lesbian friends for insight on how to make the moment authentic. With that in mind, as well as the movie's flood of accolades on the scene, it's hard to imagine that it won't deliver.
Creating A Statement With Intimacy
Lelio was highly influenced by erotic art, and used his own drawings to explain the choreography to Weisz and McAdams. There was a certain energy he wanted to evoke from this event in the film, especially considering the weight it possesses over the characters:
"This is the moment where everything trembling under the surface comes into the light. That moment that will define their lives. Because of the oppressive context under which the story unfolds, those few minutes of pleasure become almost like a statement. The human voice can use language as a way to articulate reality, to define it, to control it. But the sound of sexual moaning exists here beyond any possible control — beyond what’s right and wrong. It’s desire versus law. There is an urgency and a rebelliousness in this act."
When it came to the day of shooting the scene, there were only a small number of people on set. A private setting is always beneficial when filming a moment of this nature, but Lelio notes that the actresses were courageous the entire way through:
"They were brave from the beginning. I felt so lucky to be dealing with real artists willing to take a risk. Acting is risk — it’s about trusting a director, and blindly jumping off the cliff."
Disobedience is one of the most highly anticipated lesbian films of the near future, and not just because of the sex. But it's crucial that the steamy moment won't exist only for the sake of it, or just to cause attention. Ronit and Esti are in a religious community where same-sex love is vehemently frowned upon. To act on their true, long-lost feelings is not only bold and fearless, but also demonstrates that love will always win in the end.
Thankfully, Lelio's vision and ways of finding inspiration are refreshing, and it's definitely enough to reel us in while impatiently awaiting the trailer.
Will you be able to catch your breath during Ronit and Esti's erotic scene in Disobedience? Share your thoughts in the comments below!