Film Review: "Working Woman"

Working Woman, written and directed by Michal Aviad is hands-down the film of the #MeToo movement in Israel, and speaks to this watershed moment not just in the state, but also internationally. The movie, which premieres in theaters on March 27, 2019, deals with themes of motherhood, sexual harassment, and the struggle to find a balance between work and home life. Powerful, absorbing, and timely, Working Woman launched on the Jewish film festival circuit in November with a screening at the Boston Jewish Film Festival. Spoilers ahead.

The titular “working woman” in this film is Orna, a young wife and mother who finds herself back in the workforce out of financial necessity. Early in the movie, Orna takes a job as a personal assistant to Benny, a high-power Tel Aviv builder, to relieve some of the financial stress weighing on her husband, Ofer, who has just opened a restaurant. Despite her boss’s sexual harassment, she stays at the firm, rising in the ranks to eventually become Director of Sales. Proud of her growing success and aware that she’s become the family’s primary breadwinner, she stays on the job until she reaches her breaking point.

Like Nine to Five (1980) and North Country (2005), Working Woman depicts the harassment women are often forced to navigate in their places of employment. Painfully, in the film, as in life, the blame for that harassment is not placed on the perpetrator, but rather on the victim.“You drive me crazy,” Benny tells Orna at one point, excusing his actions. “If you didn’t want it to happen, it wouldn’t have happened,” says Ofer, holding his wife responsible for the violence inflicted upon her. In trying to write herself a letter of recommendation because Benny has refused to do so, even Orna initially blames herself for Benny’s actions, illustrating how internalized the culture of victim-blaming is. It’s only when Benny eventually signs the letter that she has written on her own behalf that she overcomes her misplaced guilt and becomes empowered.

Importantly, Working Woman also illustrates the struggle many women face to balance work and home life. In Israel, as in many other developed countries, when women began entering the workforce, they were still expected to be the primary homemakers and caretakers of children in their families. This is still largely the case, and is evident in Working Woman. Despite working long hours, Orna is primarily responsible for childcare: She rushes home to help with homework and to help Ofer with their sick child even though his job is more flexible. Although Ofer does offer help with housework and childcare throughout the film, these duties—the “domestic” sphere—fall primarily under his wife’s purview.

While the release of this film is extremely timely, Aviad began writing the script in 2016, well before the allegations against Harvey Weinstein broke, sparking the #MeToo movement. This September, during a post-screening discussion at the Toronto International Film Festival, Aviad noted that sexual harassment is not new. In 1998, Israel passed a law prohibiting sexual harassment at work and in the military, but the problem persists. In 2017, Haaretz reported that one in six women are victims of sexual harassment in the IDF. The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel cited a 30% increase in the number of cases reported to the center that same year.

Working Woman is in many ways a reflection on these troubling statistics. With subtlety, Aviad depicts the ubiquitous, almost mundane nature of the sexual harassment and assault women face in their daily lives. In Orna, we see a victim, as well as a survivor; a mother, as well as a career mogul. And in Benny, we see not a monster, but rather a man who has committed monstrous acts.

At the end of Working Woman there are many loose ends: Will Orna’s husband return home? Will Benny ever face retribution? Does his wife suspect his behavior? Like the #MeToo movement, this film seems to be asking the question: Where do we go from here?

Director: Michal Aviad
Year of Release: 2018
Running Time: 93 min.
Distributors: Zeitgeist and Kino Lorber

JWA co-sponsored the Boston Jewish Film Festival’s screenings of Working Woman.

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How to cite this page

Davis, Karen. "Film Review: "Working Woman"." 27 March 2019. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 12, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/film-review-working-woman>.

A still photo of the main character Orna (played by Liron Ben-Shlush) in the 2018 Israeli film Working Woman.

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