It’s been almost two years since the #MeToo movement exploded as a major cultural movement in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Unsurprisingly, this zeitgeist has begun to influence the stories being told on film, with several recent documentaries highlighting major cases of sexual abuse. Narrative features are also shedding light on this pervasive issue, including Michal Aviad’s shrewdly crafted Israeli drama “Working Woman.”
Liron Ben-Slush stars in the lead role as Orna, an intelligent woman seeking to re-enter the workforce to help provide for her family. That opportunity arises upon a chance interview with her former army superior Benny, who fondly remembers her good work ethic. Now a successful real estate developer, Benny hires her to assist in the sales of a new seaside development. Soon, Orna’s ambitions and Benny’s demands put a strain on her Orna’s home life, which includes a husband and three young children. But an even greater challenge arises when Benny gradually begins to make inappropriate advances on her. Despite her rapid rise up the ranks at her new job, Orna must now contend with a difficult situation that could threaten the future of her marriage and career.
Aviad opens “Working Woman” with a shot that will be recognizable to men and women alike, as a proud Orna returns to her car after nailing a job interview. Confident and hopeful with a beaming smile across her face, the image quickly allows us to relate to the character. It reminds us that in an ideal world, it would be the beginning of a bright new future.
It’s not long, however, until her boss is making comments about her appearance. And while initially harmless, his gradual interest in her raises the tension in Orna’s work environment. As the story unfolds with all the warning signs of sexual harassment, Aviad prolongs the inevitable, making for a truly unsettling viewing experience.
The insidious nature of Benny’s inappropriate conduct is just one of several smart choices Aviad makes as writer and director. Indeed, she conceives the characters with an acute awareness of the complexity of workplace power dynamics. Orna, for example, is far from naive about her boss’ intentions. However, her optimistic career prospects and her responsibilities as a mother makes her fearful of fully rejecting him. Meanwhile, Benny’s constant affirmations feel genuinely supportive, further emphasized by Menashe Noy’s approachable portrayal of the character.
It is this complicated undercurrent of repressed emotions that makes the film so potent. While Aviad’s subtle direction may not deliver riveting melodrama, it taps into deeply felt truths about gender and power dynamics. As Orna struggles through her encounters with misogyny and the associated victim-blaming and shaming, she leaps off the screen as a fully realized human being with whom audiences can sadly identify.
“Working Woman” is now playing in select theaters.