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TIFF Review: Working Woman

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There is likely never going to be a better time for director Michal Aviad to release her newest film, Working Woman. With the current climate surrounding the #MeToo movement and women bravely telling their stories of harassment and assault, this fictionalized account (which feels all too real) is more than topical.  In fact, it could easily have been ripped out of the headlines.

Orna (Liron Ben-Shlush), mother of three, is excited about the possibility of her new job.  With her husband Ofer (Oshri Cohen) struggling to make ends meet with his new restaurant, Orna’s new position as an assistant to a real estate developer seems like a dream come true.  However, her new boss Benny (Menashe Noy), while initially supportive of her new start, begins to show his true colours after a couple months of her employment.  What begins with comments about Orna’s hair and her clothing lays the groundwork for much more serious and unwelcome advances.

This is director Aviad’s second narrative feature, and while her documentary roots are often evident they are never over utilized.  Aviad is able to slowly dial up the intensity of Orna and Benny’s encounters to fully immerse the audience in just how disturbing their relationship becomes.  A slight touch, a comment spoken too closely, a gaze that lasts just too long for comfort, can quickly turn into so much more.  The film also tackles the consequences that play out for Orna which seem heartbreakingly true to what we hear women recount (even Ofer comments, “If you didn’t want it, it wouldn’t have happened”).

Lead actor Shlush is well cast in her role as Orna, able to easily portray her character’s clear discomfort in her body language or even just a tense facial expression.  In contrast, Noy is introduced as a charismatic individual, likeable and charming until he begins to abuse his power.  Together this dynamic helps to bring this timely tale to realistic life, and the seriousness of Orna’s emotional journey is well handled.

There are not many films that sincerely and earnestly portray sexual harassment in the workplace, despite its increasingly evident presence.  It’s unfortunate that too many women may recognize themselves in Orna’s story, and the consequences that play out for her are completely unfair.  However, Aviad is clear to leave a little ray of optimism and strength at the end of her film that hopefully lends encouragement for the future.

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