Liron Ben Shlush gives a heart-wrenching performance as a mother reentering the work force in Israeli feminist director Michal Aviad’s second fiction film, Working Woman. Ben Shlush is Orna, who has three young children and gets a job to help support the family while her husband, Ofer (Oshri Cohen), gets his struggling new restaurant off the ground. She takes a position with her former army commander, Benny (Menashe Noy), a high-powered real estate developer. Despite her lack of experience, Orna is an instant success as a savvy salesperson, pushing exclusive new beachfront luxury property. Orna is dismayed when Benny unexpectedly kisses her against her wishes, but when he continues his advances even as she shoves him away, she finds herself in an old, all-too-common situation, forced to decide whether she controls her body or her boss does; since her body is basically a commodity in this society, her decision is financial as well, as it will affect both her career and her family.
Written before the #MeToo movement began by longtime documentarian Aviad (Jenny & Jenny, Invisible) with Sharon Azulay Eyal and Michal Vinik, Working Woman tells a familiar story but provides unique perspective. Although Orna does nothing to encourage Benny, she begins questioning whether his creepy attraction to her is her fault regardless, that she is not doing enough to keep him away from her. She is surrounded by wealth — Benny is a rich man, living in a large, fancy home with his wife, Sari (Dorit Lev-Ari), and Orna spends her days trying to sell luxury apartments to the one percent, including the Benayouns (Gilles Ben-David and Corinne Hayat), a French couple who might bring a small community with them — but she and Ofer, a proud man who wants no help, were having financial difficulties prior to her job. If she were to quit, her family would suffer, something she will not allow to happen even as she considers the cost. Aviad handles the conflict with a profound sensitivity and deep understanding, providing no easy answers when it comes to sexual harassment. Cinematographer Daniel Miller composes long shots that follow Ben Shlush’s (Next to Her, Road 40 South) yearning, expressive eyes as she searches for a way out, a place where she can be a wife and a mother with a good full-time job. Key scenes feature subtleties that emphasize the power a male boss can hold over a female employee in so many ways that go beyond forcible contact. Working Woman opens at IFC on March 27; Aviad will be at the Greenwich Village theater for Q&As at the 7:45 screenings on March 27 and 30.