Michal Avaid uses the steady tension of her documentarian eye in Working Woman to sensitively shed light on the systemic oppression of women in the workplace. The film follows Orna (Liron Ben Shulsh), an ambitious, dedicated, and hardworking mother of three who attempts to juggle motherhood and a career in order to support her husband Ofer’s (Oshri Cohen) new restaurant venture. She takes a lucrative job in real estate sales for a prominent developer named Benny (Menashe Noy) who swaggers with boorish male entitlement. Orna uses her sharp mind, drive, and keen organisational skills to make numerous sales for the wealthy clients, but what impresses Benny the most about his new glorified secretary is her looks.
Working Woman aptly demonstrates how harassment is often concealed within conversational minutiae as Benny peppers self-deprecating humor with sly comments about how she looks better with her hair down or subtly entreats her to wear classier-length skirts. After Benny unexpectedly kisses her, Orna internally chastises herself for “leading him on” and dresses more matronly in the hopes that he will leave her alone. Yet Benny is relentless, resorting to “jokes” such as turning the lights off in her office after hours or guilting her into staying late and eating dinner with him as a thank you for giving her a raise. Avaid imbues these scenes with a palatable apprehension. Liron Ben Shulsh binds the film in her simmering, brooding performance as Orna, torn between her uncomfortable working relationship and providing for her family—a predicament that far too many women find themselves in. She deftly captures a woman who struggles to maintain her sanity and sense of self-worth against Benny’s formidable flirtations and mind games.
During a business trip to Paris, Benny’s advances escalate in a terrifying and disturbing scene featuring one of the film’s most poignant shots that nakedly displays the claustrophobic oppression Orna relentlessly feels. Avaid’s static camera locks the viewer in the heartbreaking pain and shock of Benny’s assault, mirroring Orna’s own frozen reaction. Orna’s confession of the incident to her mother, “I made a mistake,” demonstrates how easily women blame themselves for men’s transgressions, while her husband’s reaction, “Why didn’t you punch him?” bluntly illustrates the societal tendency to victim blame.
Working Woman approaches the complex subject of sexual harassment and the power imbalance of men and women in the workplace with a bold sensitivity, quiet introspection, and subtle realism that enables the audience to contemplate their own roles in such situations. It is a smooth, taut drama that exposes how men use the inherently dominant/submissive relationship of boss and employer for sexual gain. Liron Ben Shulsh’s engaging performance and Avaid’s sympathetic lens ensnares the viewer in Orna’s dilemma so that they too feel all of her dejection, fury, misery, and fear. Working Woman is a necessary film that sheds light on unfortunately commonplace issues.
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero, Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD and her writing also appears on Fandor, Reverse Shot, IndieWire, and Vague Visages. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss and Instagram @crolins