This film is a tribute to Hollywood in that they dare bring films like Disobedience and Love Simon to the screen that center on gay themes. It was long overdue.
Imagine the classic Casablanca (1942) being redone where it now takes place in a patriarchal Jewish community in London in the decades after World War II. Imagine further that Rick and Ilsa, memorably played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, are now both women. What you end up watching is a lesbian love affair where both of our paramours will always have Paris even if they cannot have each other.
Here you will see Rachel Weisz playing Ronit Krushka, a New York photographer who journeys to London to attend her father’s funeral. Given that her father was a leading Rabbi of his very conservative Jewish community, Ms. Krushka was ostracized years ago for her unacceptable relationship with another young girl. What plays out is a story where a lesbian love affair rekindles against a backdrop where the predominantly male leaders of this Jewish enclave view homosexuality as a challenge to tradition which they treasured as life’s calling card.
Though Ronit is reluctantly welcomed back to honor her late father, things quickly unravel when she discovers her childhood “friend” Esti Kuperman (played admirably by Rachel McAdams) is married to a Rabbi (Alessandro Nivola). A roar subsequently erupts when they are seen in each other’s arms, kissing in a park.
Though the film involves a condemned love affair with twists and turns that will again remind you of several of the events in Casablanca, the movie’s strength is found on two levels. The first is the performances of Ms. Weisz and Ms. McAdams, and their sexual encounters leave nothing to the viewer’s imagination. Both hot and heavy at times, it reminded me of the equally provocative sexual encounter between Charlize Theron and Sofia Boutella in last year’s Atomic Blonde.
And both Rachels are on top of their game as well as each other. Ms. Weisz’ talent has previously been displayed in films like The Light Between Oceans (2016), Denial (2016) and My Cousin Rachel (2017), while Ms. McAdams will always be remembered for her sterling performance in Spotlight (2015).
The second strength of this film flows from its recognition that the secret to life’s happiness is not found with tradition but with freedom. In order to find love you have to be able to choose your path in life and not be mandated to live by certain rules that have long outlived their meaning. Freedom enables our two ladies to resolve their forbidden love in a fashion that was surprisingly heartwarming, and it made the film worth watching.
Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa may have done the right thing when she boarded that plane with her loving husband, but Rick was able to walk away with a smile on his face knowing that she would always exist in his heart.