26 Feb 2020

Movie review: Working Woman

From At The Movies, 7:32 pm on 26 February 2020

Working Woman is an Israeli film that offers unexpected angles to the old story of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Simon Morris: I assumed that the writer-director of Working Woman, Michal Aviad, was another man.

But no, she's a director of mostly documentaries, and this film has all the welcome hallmarks of someone who knows what she's talking about.

Orna is a full-time mother of three who wants to get back into the work-force. She's married to a struggling restaurant owner, who's obviously keen on some extra money coming in.

And this job - for a highly successful property magnate called Benny - looks very promising indeed.

Orna had met Benny in the army - very Israeli! She'd been his sergeant, and he was impressed by her obvious skills.

This job as Benny's top trouble-shooter looks exciting, everyone tells her what a great boss she's got, and he's always there with useful tips on getting ahead. Often these tips involve dressing a little sexier, which perhaps should have sent up a red flag or two.

The hours are gruelling, particularly if there are problems at home with the kids. Benny rings night and day, he never seems to sleep.

But he's clearly delighted with Orna's work. So delighted that one evening he gets a little physical.

It's just a drunken kiss, but Orna takes it seriously. Today a kiss, tomorrow - who knows? How nice does she have to be to Benny to maintain her progress at work?

Benny's reaction is apologetic - it meant nothing, she misunderstood. Orna agrees to forget it, and say nothing. I'm sure this is all too familiar territory to half the audience.

Benny may present as a "nice guy", but the power is all in his hands. The only power the employee has is to quit her job, which never looks good when you're looking for another one.

As I've hinted, this is not exactly a novel story, and the way it's usually told it ends either badly or implausibly.

But while Working Woman is keen to show the reality of life in the corporate world - particularly for the capable, ambitious woman executive - director Aviad has no desire to depress a strongly female audience any more than she can help.

Yes, life in the workplace is unfair - it's pretty unfair already even before you add the sexual harassment element to it.

And it's also a disgrace when the women who do much of the work should not only lose any credit, but also be treated as shabbily as Orna - first by her boss, and later by her aggrieved husband when it all comes out.

"Why didn't you do something?" is the inevitable and unhelpful question, along with "where's your sense of humour?" and "don't tell me you're afraid of me?"

But Working Woman not only answers all of those questions, it then does something about it. You go girl, as they say in the hashtags.