Films have been addressing sexual harassment for quite a long time (see 9 to 5 for an example from 1980 that seems as relevant today as ever). Even still, I’ve been eagerly awaiting #MeToo era films for a modern processing of this ancient phenomenon. Working Woman, from the award-winning feminist, activist, writer-director Michal Aviad is one of the first of this new bunch, and it delivers a nuanced, assured, and wholly worthwhile take on the subject.
Liron Ben Shlush plays Orna, a woman eager to get into a new field, who feels that she’s caught a lucky break when her ex-commanding officer, Benny (Menashe Noy) offers her a job in condo sales. Meanwhile, her husband Ofer (Oshri Cohen) has started a new restaurant, and the family has kids to support, so Orna feels that it is critical that she make this work.
“Orna’s boss, at least two decades her senior, starts to become infatuated with her…”
Orna’s boss, at least two decades her senior, starts to become infatuated with her, and eventually tries to kiss her. Orna pushes him away and calls him out. He promises not to do it again, and she needs the job so she stays around. He showers her with praise, gives her a promotion and does everything he can to get back on her good side. As Orna excels at her work, she rises in importance, though of course her boss ultimately escalates his harassing behavior.
It would be easy to make the boss pure mustache-twirling evil, but that wouldn’t make a very interesting film. But the even greater danger lies in making him too sympathetic. The same goes for the protagonist – we have to root for her to get out of this situation, while still having a believable reason to stay in it. Working Woman threads this needle perfectly. Orna feels guilt, though we as an audience don’t feel she’s guilty at all. There’s very clearly a person in the wrong here, and a person to root for, though it never descends into a two-dimensional caricature.
To its credit, Working Woman is laser-focused on its theme. There are no superfluous characters or side-plots. There’s no best friend to confide in, no hilarious sidekick. There’s just a woman who feels all alone like there’s no one she can trust, no one who will understand her.
“There’s very clearly a person in the wrong here, and a person to root for, though it never descends into a two-dimensional caricature…”
A film where there are only three main characters lives and dies on the writing and acting. The characters have to get to some emotional places without seeming overwrought. Fortunately, the cast is superb, and the writing is nuanced.
Working Woman is set in Israel, though it hardly matters because the themes are timeless and independent of culture. Even still, I’m glad to see a take on the subject matter set in a culture outside my own. I want to see hundreds of versions of films like this, once set in every culture.
Working Woman (2018) Directed by Michal Aviad. Written by Michal Aviad, Sharon Azulay, Eyal Michal Vinik. Starring Liron Ben Shlush, Menashe Noy, Oshri Cohen. Working Woman is screened at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
8 stars out of 10