At the Movies With…Lady Beverly Cohn
For the last few years as a result of the decades long of abuse by Harvey Weinstein, which spawned the “Me-Too Movement,” we have become painfully aware of the insidious sexual abuse of women as they tried to move up the ladder to success in a multitude of industries – from corporations to show business. Reams of stories have emerged chronicling the culture of acceptance in the face of the humiliation women quietly endured. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, along comes Michal Aviad’s Indie film “Working Woman,” a beautifully shot, deeply penetrating look into what one Israeli young woman had to endure in order to earn a living for her family.
“Working Woman” is a one-two punch to the stomach as we journey through the professional and personal life of Orna, brilliantly brought to life by Israeli actress Liron Ben Shlush, whose multi-layered, sensitive performance, is unforgettable. Orna is a happily married woman with three children. Her devoted, loving husband Ofer, beautifully played by Oshri Cohen, has just opened a restaurant, which as not caught on as yet. Cash is in short supply so Orna decides to help out by finding a job. As luck would have it, she interviewed with her former army superior who remembered how efficient she was. Benny isplayed by Menashe Noy who truly captures the lasciviousness nature of his disgusting character, is now a successful real estate developer and is embarking on a new super luxurious building project overlooking the sea, twenty minutes from Tel Aviv. He hired her instantly and in short order with her intelligence and innate marketing ability, she becomes a valuable asset to the company. Benny is impressed with her talent and makes her his right-hand person including her in his meetings. Orna’s growing responsibilities begins to impact on her home life and she tries the best she can to balance being a loving wife and a wonderful mom as well as bringing home the much-needed income.
In a quiet, insidious way, the sexual harassment by her boss starts to rear its ugly head. It begins “innocently” with Benny suggesting that she wear her hair down instead of in a bun and wants her to buy a short skirt so she can look “classy” for an upcoming meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Benayoun (Gilles Ben-David & Corinne Hayat,) an affluent French couple who are potential buyers. The meeting goes well and they are impressed that Orna speaks fluent French. Their deal point is that the building must have close access to a delicatessen so they can buy their daily croissants. The meeting goes very well and both Benny and Orna are elated, with his elation leading to an attempt to kiss her. She recoils with Benny promising, “It will never happen again.” But the dye is cast and we get a glimpse of what lies ahead for her. In a subtle message, Orna puts her hair back in a bun hoping that her employer’s inappropriate behavior was an isolated incident and would not recur again. Following the positive meeting with the French couple, Orna is working late one night. Benny tells her that he is promoting her to sales manager and raising her pay to 8,000 shekels a month, plus 0.3% of sales – an increase that would insure the financial stability of her family until her husband’s restaurant becomes successful. One evening, her boss plays with the lights in her office leaving her in darkness. She finds it unsettling and tells him to cut it out. She is painfully aware that despite his promise that “It will never happen again,” her sensibilities are on high alert. Benny is no fool and knows how to keep reeling in his prey. As time moves on, just like the music we heard in “Jaws” when the shark was about to appear, while Orna’s career continues its upward spiral, her fear and underlying tension becomes palpable. To sweeten her dependence on him, and to put another notch in his potential seduction belt, her boss pulls some strings and secures a business license for her husband, who was having difficulty securing one. Driven by both her growing fear of Benny’s inappropriate conduct, and her financial concerns, Orna decides to leave the office and manage sales from an on-site location. He tries to convince her to stay in the office, bribing her with a new car, but she refuses and says she could sell more effectively if she’s there to meet potential buyers, an argument he had difficulty refuting. Benny’s birthday is approaching and he invites she and her husband to attend a party at his ultra-luxurious home. He sees how happy Orna and her husband are and how much they seem to enjoy each other. From a distance, he watches them dance and hug each other and instantly one could feel the potential danger lurking ahead for this workingwoman.
So, as they say, the plot thickens. Benny has an important meeting set up in Paris with a group of affluent potential buyers. He insists that she accompany him and dozens of red flags go up. I couldn’t help thinking, “don’t go,” but then what follows in the powerful script by Sharon Azulay Eyal, Michal Vinik, and Michal Aviad, wouldn’t follow. During the sales pitch, Orna sees some reluctance from the buyers to commit. Being creative, she comes up with a brilliant idea that results in selling eight units on the spot. Following the meeting, Benny suggests they have dinner at the hotel. Not wanting to take anything from him, Orna says it’s her treat, which he doesn’t allow. What follows after dinner should come as no surprise, but nevertheless, could tear your heart out. Her mother, played by Irit Sheleg, knows there is something wrong and when she reveals what happened, mom
consoles her daughter with “We all make mistakes,” as if it was Orna’s fault. On learning what happened in Paris, Ofer is furious and insists that she must have somehow been provocative, thus making it the fault of the victim.
Finally, enough is enough and Orna quits her job and begins seeking employment. It turns out she must have a recommendation from her former employer which he refuses to give her. At this point she is at the mercy of her ex-boss, but the action she takes is absolutely brilliant. She decides to write her own recommendation and to get Benny to sign it. How she accomplishes this will have you cheering as the mouse outsmarts the cat.
Aviad’s “Working Woman” is a painstaking journey through the trials and tribulations of a young woman who bears the humiliations foisted upon her by a sexual predator until she could bear it no longer. If all the women coming forward were a bit abstract to really understand what they endured, this Israeli film will give you an in your face haunting look that will be difficult to forget.
A Zeitgeist Films Release in Association with Kino Lorber
Director: Michal Aviad
Writers: Sharon Azulay Eyal, Michal Vinik, Michal Aviad
Production Company: Lama Films
Producers: Amir Harel, Ayelet Kait
Cinematographer: Daniel Miller
Editor: Nili Feller
Art Director: Eyal Elhadad
Sound Designer: Aviv Aldema
Language: Hebrew with English Subtitles
Running Time: 93 minutes
“Working Woman” opens on Friday, April 12
Laemmle Royal, Laemmle Town Center 5, & Laemmle Playhouse 7