Michal Aviad’s Working Woman tells a story that has been told quite a few times before but is still quite relevant and topical. It is the story of a working woman, as said in the title of the film, a woman who’s trying to support her aspiring husband and her family by becoming the main bread earner of the family along with taking care of the children. But Working Woman is also a story of the women who are oppressed in this patriarchal society, women who are taken for granted and women who live in absolute denial in spite of their constant suffering.
Working Woman is a straightforward story about Orna (played by the elegant Liron Ben Shlush), who joins the construction company of an acquaintance Benny as his assistant. That way she helps out their family as her husband has just launched a restaurant after quitting his job which isn’t running as well as he expected. While everything is great for a few months for Orna who has a lot of aspirations, she soon starts facing advances from Benny. What begins with an attempt of kissing soon changes into forcing himself on her during work trips. These situations make Orna’s life very difficult as both her professional and family life becomes turbulent.
While there are many other films which deal with the issue of rape, Working Woman will stand out due to a very realistic portrayal of what a woman goes through when they face workplace harassment.
It shows how some cliches or notions are so deep-rooted in our societies that women, even when clearly facing abuse still think that they are to blame for what is happening to them. When Orna first confides in her mother about how Benny tried to force himself on her, she says “I made a mistake”. Orna’s husband just cannot believe that his wife had no part to play in Benny becoming attracted to her. He couldn’t believe that he tried to kiss her just like that or tried to force himself upon her without her consent. He even indirectly accuses her of earning her money and promotions through giving sexual favours to Benny.
Working Woman points us in the eye and shows us how difficult we have made lives for women, how they struggle to find acceptance in this extremely male-dominated society. It shows us how we have, for no reason, put them on the wrong side of the dynamics of power and authority in society. The film doesn’t go to the extremes of rape or immense abuse, but it stays in the grey area of harassment. The viewer is forced to share the feeling of discomfort and fear that Orna feels every time she is around Benny, anticipating his advances. Women have become so accustomed to this wrongdoing that instead of raising their voice, they choose to carry on with their work and life because raising a voice puts them in the precarious position of their characters getting stained or their life getting difficult in the form of a lost job.
The director tries to explore how workplace harassment affects personal life as well. In her interviews, Michal Aviad has said that she went through incidents from her own life along with collecting experiences of her friends and family and conducting extensive research on court cases about sexual harassment. She shows us how turbulent and frustrating a woman’s personal life can get during such times because they know confiding in someone will result in the blame being shifted to them while the frustration of going to the same workplace every day slowly seeps into their lives in the form of insomnia or being absent minded all the time. The desperation of getting out of this nightmare makes their life a living hell.
Liron Ben Shlush does an excellent job of playing the protagonist of the film. Her acting is truly excellent and she portrays the pain of Orna with such expertise that it is bound to affect you. Whether it was gleefully dancing at a birthday party or taking out her frustrations on her laptop while typing a recommendation letter for her harassing boss to sign, Orna is a character that truly goes through a lot of changes from when we see her first and to portray that you not only need to be a good actor but you also need to connect with the character, and I felt Ben Shlush did just that. Menashe Roy and Oshri Cohen provide excellent support to her as Benny and Ofer (Orna’s husband). Roy must also get a mention, as playing someone who commits a crime while acting as if nothing is wrong also takes a great deal of skill.
Aviad says that she is inspired by feminist filmmakers like Chantal Akerman and Jane Campion and that is clearly evident in the film. It is also clear how much work and effort she put it in the making of the film. She shot the film from two points of views, one being from Orna’s where a camera was hung around Ben Shlush’s neck and one she says from the filmmaker or society’s point of view.
The film doesn’t drag at all and keeps the viewer engrossed and guessing about what would happen to Orna next. In this current scenario of the #MeToo movement, Working Woman is really an important film, which shows that it doesn’t always have to be famous people who would misuse their power and money to commit heinous acts of sexual harassment
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An aspiring programmer by passion, Tuhin is a serial procrastinator and is occupied with three M’s – Movies, Music and Manchester United. He is obsessed with the use of colour in films, something he pours out more often than not on his Facebook page.