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Working Woman explores the insidiousness of workplace harassment

 

WORKING WOMAN
directed by Michal Aviad

Israeli director Michal Aviad delivers a compelling portrayal of ways that harassment so easily occurs.

When Tel Aviv married mother of three Orna gets a new job as a property developer’s assistant, she’s hopeful it will lighten the load on the family finances under strain from her husband’s poorly performing new restaurant. Orna (Liron Ben-Shlush) rapidly rises in her new boss’ estimation as she helps him seal lucrative deals using her natural charm and smarts. Unfortunately, his appreciation soon manifests in unwanted and increasingly manipulative ways.

This second fictional feature by Israeli director Michal Aviad is the latest in an award-winning career that includes 10 documentaries on subjects seen through a distinctly female lens. Her focus on women’s experiences of migration, ageing and rape has shown her commitment to highlighting stories about female struggle and empowerment.

Working Woman’s examination of insidious sexual harassment is unashamedly timely in the #MeToo era, and though it’s not flashy like Bombshell, the credible story and naturalistic, unobtrusive photography contribute to the portrayal of universally recognisable scenarios in which harassment can so easily occur. The film answers our tacit “but why didn’t she …?” and “how could he …?” by painting Orna’s predicament in a depressingly realistic way, with a script that is taut, well-written and at times gruelling.

Critically, the universally strong performances lend weight to the story’s realism. As Orna’s boss, Benny, Menashe Noy is a wolf in sheep’s clothing; his polite “mind if I make a comment?” about her hairstyle and the “professional” reasons he proposes she wear a skirt are illustrative of Benny’s tricksy and ultimately controlling MO. Ben-Shlush is wonderful as the self-contained Orna, whose inner strength is gradually chipped away after each compromising situation.

An excellent portrait of a sickeningly common and perpetually harrowing issue, Working Woman is completely compelling as it draws towards an unpredictable conclusion.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★

Video: Toronto International Film Festival

This article was first published in the March 7, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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