Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2019 7:57 am 
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MICHAL AVIAD: WORKING WOMAN (2018)

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LIRON BEN SHLUSH IN WORKING WOMAN

A pointed @MeToo tale from Israel

"You drive me wild," says Benny (Menashe Noy), the married real estate executive employer of Orna (Liron Ben Shlush), also married, who now works closely with him. They are on a trip to Paris, where they've sold a block of flats at the Israeli seashore to French clients. His statement, not for the first time, is a prelude to inappropriate sexual harassment. Only this time it goes further, beyond an unwanted kiss, an overfamiliar remark, a touch to, in effect, a full-on date rape without penetration conducted standing up just inside the door of his hotel room, where Benny has pushed Orna up against the wall.

This is, shall we say, the climax of a story about something very relevant in an era when the @MeToo movement has spread to many countries: how men use a work situation as an excuse for sexual harassment that steadily escalates when a woman is stuck in an uncomfortable situation because she needs the job. In Working Woman there can be no mistake about that. Orna is the mother of three. Her husband Ofer (Oshri Cohen) has recently opened a restaurant, somewhat a bootstrap operation, that is having a slow start. She has never worked in real estate before - not a very viable CV, then - but proves very good at selling apartments in Benny's new beach front development, which he recognizes with a quick promotion and generous bonuses. This job is great, it's unique, and it's badly needed.

After the Paris débâcle, the vaguely escalating discomfort of the situation for Orna is bright and loud, but, tellingly, she keeps it dark and quiet, not telling tell Ofer what happened. It's dangerous to say anything for multiple reasons. Not only loss but personal damage loom for Orna if she speaks up.

As Orna, Ben- Shlush has a a lean, severe look. The film is devoid of musical background. These two elements contribute to the bare-bones,no-nonsense quality of this film. The filmmaker has made numerous documentaries but only one previous feature, Invisible, about two women who find they were raped by the same man. Wendy Ide of Screen Daily calls Working Woman "tightly focused." Elizabeth Kerr of Hollywood Reporter opines that the film succeeds "despite a lack of the bigger, louder, more outwardly emotional moments it could have succumbed to." There is almost a Brechtian alienation effect. We watch coldly. Neither Benny nor Orna is particularly charming or appealing. They are just two people who are good at doing their jobs - except for the disruption that Benny creates with his inappropriate, exploitative, sexist behavior.

And then, when she tries to tell him what has happened in Paris, Over isn't particularly admirable either: there is that familiar element in such cases of blame-the-victim, assuming the worst, faulting her for not telling him sooner. But then, Orna has not been as strong or as clear in explaining to her husband what has happened. This most sensitive of subjects strains their communicative skills as husband and wife almost to the breaking point.

Ben-Shlush is excellent as Orna, subtly showing her competence and her growing alienation from her job and her predicament, then, after Paris, her gradual disintegration, and then recovery. As Benny, Noy delivers a brave performance too, one that's distasteful but never overdone. Aviad has made a film that's powerful in its understatement, while being utterly focused on its one subject. But it its coldness, in its bare-bones quality, it lacks art, and winds up feeling like an instructional film. It can be used as such.

Working Woman/Isha Ovedet, 93 mins., debuted at Jerusalem July 2018, Toronto in Sept.. It showed at 9 other international festivals. US theatrical release (NYC, IFC Center) was 29 Mar. 2019. Theatrical releases in France and the Netherlands coming in Apr. and Aug. 2019, respectively. Metascore 81%.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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