Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) is a young Mum, married to a chef husband with three small children in Central Israel, living in a small city highrise flat. Her husband, Ofer (Oshri Cohen), has opened a restaurant but trade is slow. He is four months in and cannot get a business licence.
To relieve the family's financial pressure, Orna finds a job with a high rise developer 'Benny' (Menashe Noy), who is building 'Lily Beach' with views of the ocean in Rishon LeZion, Israel's fastest-growing city with a large Jewish population.
Orna and Benny in 'Working Woman - photo by Vered Adir'
Benny quickly promotes Orna to a Sales Manager and subtly asserts his power and control over her by giving her compliments about her hair and dress and tries to lure her with charm, bonuses and gifts. She refuses Benny's approaches but at the same time needs the job to keep her family afloat, especially as Ofer's restaurant is not making any money.
Ofer and Orna in 'Working Woman' - photo by Vered Adir
However, Benny's power and control escalate. He tries to kiss her. Orna often works late, whilst Ofer, her mother, looks after the children. Benny entraps Orna by playing with the office lights to make her stay longer at the office because he has ordered sushi. Although Orna feels scared she puts on a strong front as she needs this job to survive.
Benny, Orna and Ofer in 'Working Woman' - photo by Vered Adir
Benny uses his influence to secure Orna's husband business licence without his permission. Benny invites Orna and Ofer to his birthday party in his luxurious home and introduces them to his wife Sari (Dorit Lev-Ari). Benny watches Orna and Ofer dance at the party, however still sees Orna as 'his property'.
Orna, Ofer and family in 'Working Woman' - photo by Vered Adir
On another occasion Benny makes Orna take him to Ofer's restaurant for lunch, where Benny announces he has secured his business license through his circle of influence. Although relieved, Ofer is not impressed and does not trust Benny.
Benny & Orna in 'Working Woman' - photo by Vered Adir
Benny promises Orna $8000 New Israeli Shekels (i.e. $3400 AUD) upfront to secure a deal with Parisian Jews in with properties in the rival area of Netanya.
Orna knows Ofer needs this money to secure debts he has already accumulated due to slow trade. Benny takes Orna to Paris where she successfully lands a deal with ten Parisian retiree couples who buy up a floor of the new building in Rishon LeZion.
Orna, Benny & Ofer in 'Working Woman' - photo by Vered Adir
They have dinner to celebrate the deal and Benny gets drunk and pretends not to know how to use the hotel key card to unlock his hotel room. Orna helps Benny with his key and he forces her into his hotel room, rapes her. Orna freezes.
From then, Orna descends into obsessive-compulsive behaviours like excessive cleaning and other symptoms of trauma.
On arrival back at work, Benny gives Orna flowers and acknowledges her work in front of the team. In private, Benny tries to progress the relationship, as if the Paris trip was a building block. In distress, Orna runs out of the office and is physically sick and leaves the job.
When Orna tries to find a new property sales job - she is trapped – all the property developers know Benny and he has told them about 'his Orna'. Benny refuses to give Orna a written reference and she needs this to secure employment and here her life starts to spiral downward.
Benny & Orna in Paris 'Working Woman' - photo by Vered Adir
She tries to tell her mother - but her mother thinks Orna has made a 'one-off mistake' and it should remain a secret – as if the Paris trip was an 'extra-marital affair'. Orna eventually tells Ofer and he doesn't understand why she didn't leave or fight Benny off.
Orna starts to forget things like picking up her children from school. Such is the subtle dance of psychological manipulation of power and control to destroy her. Orna feels alone with no support.
Working Woman written and directed by Michal Aviad premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018, and is produced by Lama Films, filmed in Hebrew with English subtitles and runs for 93 mins.
The film is shot in a naturalistic style, the characters are highly relatable and believable and reveal how easily workplace sexual harassment can be invisible to others and a complex landscape to traverse.
As you watch the film, you become a witness and bystander of the sexual harassment which Orna is experiencing and how it affects her daily.
Benny is cunning in how he finds opportunities to isolate and intimidate Orna to prey on her. He never questions his own behaviour – Benny views Orna as another piece of property. Working Woman also documents the ecosystem of the 'haves' and 'haves not' and how one class preys on the other – Benny and the high rises versus Ofer and the restaurant industry.
It is obvious that Orna and Ofer have a loving relationship and there is no reason other than survival that Orna continues to work for Benny. However, without Ofer seeing the harassment, and living in a culture which tends to have traditional views of women and their role in the family, it is stereotypical that he accuses Orna of encouraging the harassment, and of not fighting for their relationship.
I highly recommend you see this film when it comes out to a cinema near you.