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“Working Woman” Film Review

“Working Woman” is an Israeli drama film from feminist filmmaker Michal Aviad. The film follows Orna (Liron Ben-Shlush), a mother of three who needs to begin working because her husband, Ofer (Oshri Cohen), recently opened his own restaurant and it’s not yet profitable. At first, Orna is excited to work with her new boss Benny (Menashe Noy), but things soon become uncomfortable.

Within the first 20 minutes of “Working Woman,” you know exactly where it’s headed. Benny says seemingly harmless things to Orna, like “You’d look better with your hair down,” and “You should wear a skirt … to look attractive … chic.” They are small things, but even Orna knows that it’s inappropriate and weird. Still, she goes along with it, because what choice does she have? Her family needs the money.

Orna on the phone as Benny approaches her in “Working Woman”
Courtesy Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber

The behavior gets more and more insidious, but Orna becomes more and more successful — she even gets a promotion and raise. Make no mistake: Orna is smart and savvy. But even as much as things seem to change, truly they stay the same. Benny is manipulative and does Orna favors that she never even asked for, as if to gain even more leverage over her.

And while Orna’s relationship with Ofer is generally strong — including a cute role-playing moment early on and some dancing at a party later in the film — she’s got her issues there, too. There are the normal marital tensions around kids and money, but when she opens up to him in the film’s third act, it falls apart. Ofer is not supportive, instead blaming his wife for everything that happened with Benny. And to a point, Orna blames herself too. “Working Woman” is not afraid to go to dark places.

Ofer and Orna embracing in “Working Woman”
Courtesy Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber

While it is frustrating to watch a successful woman — who is 100 percent responsible for said success — be brought down and broken by men, the movie sends a strong message too. Even when Orna seems meek and broken, she never really loses her confidence and determination; they’re just temporarily overpowered by the indignities that she suffers.

The film is mostly in Hebrew, with some French-language dialogue, with English subtitles. The cast is all great, but of course Ben-Shlush is a powerhouse who carries “Working Woman” on her shoulders (it’s aptly-named for more than one reason). Though it is a slice of life movie, which could get tiring, the screenplay and cinematography keep it dynamic and interesting. It’s not an enjoyable film to watch, due to its substance, but it is an interesting one.

Liron Ben-Shlush as Orna in “Working Woman”
Courtesy Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber

Last note: There is a portrayal of attempted assault in “Working Woman.” It isn’t graphic in ways you might expect, probably due in part to the fact that the director is a feminist woman, but it’s incredibly uncomfortable and may not be for all viewers, so this is just a warning before you check it out. The story told here, though, is one of great importance.

“Working Woman” opened March 27 at the IFC Center in New York City, and will be opening up around the U.S. in April, May and June. Check out the full list of dates here.

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