‘Working Woman’ Review: Plumbing a Toxic Work Environment in Israel

Despite its surface-level placidity, the Israeli feature “Working Woman” unfolds like a psychological thriller — a procedural that, as it tightens its grip, captures how workplace sexual harassment slowly takes over one woman’s life.

The movie, directed Michal Aviad, opens with Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) emerging from a successful job interview with Benny (Menashe Noy), a prominent property developer who was her commanding officer in the army. Even though Orna has no experience in real estate — she feels as if Benny is giving her an unusual chance — she demonstrates a knack for the business and an ear for what customers want to hear.

It doesn’t take long for Benny to reveal less altruistic intentions. He makes comments about Orna’s hair and clothes and, one night, kisses her. She rebuffs him, and he apologizes — but it’s clearly not the end of the matter, and only the beginning of a toxic push-pull dynamic in which he will pretend to be interested in her well-being while finding ways to exert control over her, and to insinuate that she owes him.

Orna appears afraid to speak out, but for the most part Aviad doesn’t directly verbalize her reactions, relying on Ben Shlush to express her pain in ways not detailed in dialogue. Orna does not tell her husband, Ofer (Oshri Cohen), about the kiss, seemingly out of shame, confusion and perhaps an impulse to protect his pride. He is struggling to get a new restaurant off the ground, and she is effectively the breadwinner.

The couple’s financial situation, too, is something that Benny is able to leverage against Orna, using his connections with the municipal government to secure Ofer a business license, even though neither Ofer nor Orna has asked him to. (There is a squirm-inducing scene at Ofer’s restaurant, where Benny insists on having lunch one day. Aviad holds a shot of Benny sampling Ofer’s cooking and talking with Orna about a business trip to Paris for an uncomfortably long time.)

What is notable is that Benny isn’t a mastermind. On the contrary, the film suggests that his predatory techniques — including subtly turning the spouses against each other, affecting their home life — are all too common.

Shots in which Aviad follows Orna with a hand-held camera owe something to the Belgian filmmakers the Dardenne brothers (“The Unknown Girl”), whom the director has cited as an influence, as does the way she draws out pent-up anguish for suspense. There are times when the film risks heavy-handedness. (At a party hosted by the lecherous Benny, Orna and Ofer dance to the Bee Gees’ “If I Can’t Have You.”)

But as “Working Woman” winds its way to a satisfying conclusion, it is an effective, generally gripping chronicle of how Orna’s difficulties compound, leading her to isolate herself mentally even as Benny’s harassment escalates. It also illustrates how targeted harassment can have collateral victims.

Working Woman

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Working Woman
Not rated. In Hebrew, French and English, with subtitles Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes.

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