Rating: 3 out of 4
Set in contemporary Tel Aviv, the Israeli film “Working Woman” feels all too timely in the #MeToo era. But in fact, feminist director Michal Aviad began working on the drama (her second, after 2011’s “Invisible” and several documentaries) in 2012.
“No normal working hours, but lots of possibilities to advance,” Orna tells her husband, describing the job she’s just been offered by a successful real estate developer — her former commanding officer during her military service.
The 30-something mother of three young children — who previously worked in child care and stayed home to take care of her own kids — Orna (Liron Ben-Shlush) is grateful for the chance to move into a career with prestige and better pay. She and her husband, Ofer (Oshri Cohen), need the money. A chef, he’s still struggling to get his months-old restaurant off the ground.
Orna’s first impression of the job proves to be spot-on. Her demanding 50-something boss, Benny (Menashe Noy), quickly recognizes her hard work and excellent people skills, rewarding her with raises, a promotion and perks. But those gains come amid Benny’s late-night work calls that go on too long, inappropriate comments about her clothes and appearance, and an attempted kiss that she firmly brushes off, telling Benny, who is married, that she’s not that kind of woman.
In public, however, Benny is all charm, inviting Orna and Ofer to his swanky birthday party at his mansion, complete with outdoor pool — a striking contrast to the younger couple’s cramped, slightly dingy apartment.
What’s Orna to do? Knowing that her family can’t afford for her to quit, she avoids telling her husband what’s really going on, trying her best to maintain boundaries with Benny, who alternates between pushy and contrite — until things reach a breaking point.
Although commendably relatable, the story line at times feels too familiar, save for later scenes in which Orna makes some choices that lead to a (mostly) satisfying ending.
“Working Woman” shows, in a particularly clear-eyed and realistic way, the predicament that far too many women find themselves in, through no fault of their own. It also shows how both subtle and coercive sexual harassment can be. Aside from one especially horrendous moment, the film is set to more a simmer than a boil, deftly capturing the insidiousness of the problem.
Aviad elicits nuanced, persuasive performances from her lead actors: As Orna, Ben-Shlush is persistent yet steely, possessed of an inner strength that helps her character through difficult circumstances. As Benny, Noy is not some monstrous caricature but a powerful, wealthy man who’s used to getting his way.
The Israeli setting comes through in the specifics; Benny’s company, for example, is building a waterfront high-rise marketed to a group of older French Jews who are considering moving to Israel if, as one of them puts it, “things in France get worse.”
And yet this story of workplace abuse and its fallout could just as well take place in New York, Istanbul, Mumbai — or any other city. Orna is Everywoman. Like many other women in her shoes, she emerges scarred, but stronger and wiser.