Writing reviews requires consistency.
People expect the type of review they’ve always seen when they flip through the pages of TheBurg. They’ve grown accustomed to the specific voice in which I write these reviews. It’s a voice that is willing to give a critique, but still remain impartial—words from a critic, not a fan.
Even when I connect with a film, I remember that my personal connection is not the same connection that everyone else might make with a film. I try to write my film reviews as an unbiased reflection on an artistic work—still relaying the emotions, themes and message that the film presents, but doing so in a trusted, professional way.
This time, though, it was very challenging.
Michal Aviad’s “Working Woman” is an Israeli film about a woman who finds herself in a difficult position because of sexual harassment. While I can’t say that I’ve faced harassment to this extent in the workplace, I can pinpoint “lesser” examples, and many more from my social life, that allowed me to connect to this story at a visceral level. And so can most women.
The film is part of the lineup for the Edward S. Finkelstein Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival, and though it portrays an Israeli perspective on the world, the film transcends its demographic. This is a film that hits home for a lot of people, no matter their walk of life. This is a fairly common trait for the films that are chosen for the JFF—they speak to everyone. This one, in particular, had a lot to say.
Orna (Liron Ben-Shlush) has accepted a position as the assistant to a successful real estate developer, Benny (Menashe Noy).
“Is this the right time to learn a new profession?” her husband (Oshri Cohen) asks, having just opened a new restaurant a few months prior.
He is nervous about their family of four making a change so soon after the uncertain financial move they have made with his budding business. But, confident and quietly resolved, Orna is excited about the opportunity.
Soon, as the restaurant takes longer than expected to find its legs, Orna becomes the breadwinner in the family, throwing herself into the position and playing a major role in selling a sea-view high rise to several French customers. But providing financially for her family seems to come at a price. Her boss seems to have more than a working relationship in mind. Though she blocks his advances, Benny seems determined, making comments and acting inappropriately. Orna brushes off the sexual harassment and tries to focus on doing her job, but things keep getting worse.
Aviad fiercely portrays every woman’s nightmare in this Israeli drama. Women (and not just women, but in this scenario, it’s applicable) know something of Orna’s story. Maybe some haven’t been targeted by sexual harassment to this extreme—maybe they’ve only heard comments or had assumptions made by them that translated to work difficulties. Maybe some have had worse. But we all know what it’s like to be the recipient of unwanted behavior.
And that’s what makes “Working Woman” cut so deep.
Orna never specifies why she lets things continue without saying anything. Perhaps she believes her husband will not let her continue the job if he finds out. Or perhaps she sees this as commonplace—a part of the working environment. An interesting note (though unfortunately not surprising) is that Orna never considers filing a report or going to the authorities. Perhaps it is because she feels like it won’t accomplish anything. Every option that Orna has seems to point to her losing a position in a career she loves.
It also unequivocally points to Orna having to come to grips with the fact that the harassment is happening. We’d all like to believe that the human race is growing and learning, that discrimination is fading into the background. We’d all like to believe that we will never have to deal with something of this nature. And that desire sometimes leads to pretending—if we pretend nothing is happening then we can believe that we really are in a better world. Maybe the problem will solve itself, without us having to voice it or confront it.
Aviad offers an in-depth case study of the concept of freezing—the moment in which, during a fight-or-flight scenario, the body instead becomes immobilized. Since Orna probably has not done research into the psychological effects of sexual harassment, her moments of freezing affect her even more severely, especially in context with the conversations she has with her husband late in the film. We see this struggle in Ben-Shlush’s performance. Her pinnacle scene comes as she sits at her computer, typing up her own recommendation letter, trying to fix her problem while still deeply entrenched in it. It is a heartbreaking yet familiar scene in which she attacks herself instead of helping herself.
There are so many moments I can point to in order to recommend this film, but suffice it to say, “Working Woman” will simultaneously compel and upset. It is a story worth reflecting upon and a film that needs to be seen.
At Midtown Cinema
Down in Front! presents
“Time Chasers” (1994)
Friday, May 10, 9:30 p.m.
3rd in the Burg $3 Movie
“Dark Crystal” (1982)
Friday, May 17, 9:30 p.m.
Edward S. Finkelstein Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival
May 11 to 16
Lineup can be seen at www.hbgjff.com.