The #MeToo movement has found its film. It’s not a hot new Sundance item but an Israeli feature in the works since 2012, and it will knock you out.
Michal Aviad’s “Working Woman” couldn’t be more relevant or contemporary, but to characterize it that narrowly is to do this fine film a disservice. “Working Woman” is more than a feature that makes compelling drama out of workplace sexual harassment; it’s an excellent work by any standard, a subtle and insightful character-driven drama that will compel anyone who cares about the interplay of personalities on-screen.
This is especially impressive because we know exactly where “Working Woman” is headed. In fact we know what’s going to happen to protagonist Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) well before she does.
Aviad has counterintuitively compared this disturbing film to the romantic comedy genre, where though the outcome is preordained, the surprise is in the details, noting: “You don’t know when and how it will happen.”
As co-written by Aviad, Sharon Azulay Eyal and Michal Vinik, “Working Woman” does not let you down in that area. Its sequence of events is step-by-step plausible and persuasive, enabling us to experience events from inside, to feel what Orna feels as she is feeling it.
What’s true for “Working Woman’s” plot is even more so for the characterizations. As brought to life by accomplished actors (whom the director worked with for months before shooting began), each person, no matter their place on the moral spectrum, is all too human and completely convincing.
Orna is introduced at a high point in her life, the epitome of a modern confident woman as she walks down a city street to meet husband Ofer (Oshri Cohen) after a successful job interview. The man who hired her, successful real estate developer Benny (Menashe Noy), remembered Orna from earlier days when he was her commanding officer in the army.
In the process of building a luxury seaside condominium tower, Benny needs an assistant. Hours will be long but opportunities for advancement will be great and, Orna tells her husband, “I’ll be learning a profession at his expense.”
Ofer is not quite so excited. He’s a chef who’s just opened his own restaurant, and the couple, who have a palpable bond, share parenting of three young children. He fears the timing for this is not right, but Orna is not to be denied.
And things do start out well. Her coworkers like and respect her, her ideas are listened to (she deftly renames the building the Lily Beach) and she has a hand in getting a French Jewish couple — and possibly their friends — to buy in.
Also, Ofer’s restaurant is taking longer to get off the ground than planned and the salary Orna brings home is crucial to the family staying afloat.
Warning signs, however, are present as well. Benny, a classic Israeli silver fox in jeans and dress shirts, has a habit of leaning in too close and doesn’t hesitate to tell Orna she looks better when she wears her hair down.
Then, after a particularly good day at the office, Benny leans in and kisses Orna hard. Totally shocked, she leaves work immediately, but, very much aware of the value of her job, she does not tell her husband and she does not quit.
The picture of contrition, Benny swears nothing like that will ever happen again. But a kind of pressure builds on Orna that proves unrelenting.
One of the things “Working Woman” does best is detailing how fatally intertwined the good and the destructive parts of Orna’s career become. As her job begins to involve more of her time, her needs, even her dreams, Orna finds it easier to rationalize the way things are going.
Inevitably, in a scene almost unbearable to watch, an uncrossable line is crossed. Gripping to this point, “Working Woman” now rises to another level as it becomes clear that no one in her life, not her husband, not even her mother, really understands the nature of what has happened to Orna or its effects.
This is only the second dramatic feature for writer-director Aviad, who has been making documentaries since the 1980s. According to the press notes, she and cinematographer Daniel Miller chose to shoot in long takes using a handheld camera to better focus on the intensity of emotions, and it shows.
“Working Woman” may sound familiar, but be prepared: It cuts closer to the bone than you will be ready for.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: Laemmle’s Royal, West Los Angeles; Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Town Center 5, Encino