Working Woman

Working Woman.png

* * * 1/2

A young mother of three in Tel Aviv, happily married to a chef whose restaurant is struggling, gets an exciting, demanding and potentially highly rewarding job as the assistant to a very successful and powerfully connected real estate developer. But there’s trouble, and it’s him.

This is a forensic examination of just how workplace sexual harassment can not only play out but ensnare its victims in deeply complicated, confusing, dehumanising emotional and psychological webs. Without ever resorting to lurid plot developments or any hint of sensationalism, nor directorial tricks (there isn’t even a score), the film anchors you deeply within the brutal turmoil of the protagonist’s dilemma.

No film, nor book nor play, has come close to demonstrating to me – an Australian man – the subtleties of how such behaviour can continue, escalate, evolve and keep the victim on the hook as well as this. The antagonist is Weinstein-esque without being on-the-nose; the effect is to enhance the empathy one already feels for everyone who ever worked for him, or men like him. Vital viewing for our sad age, and to help us move forward to the next.

The Divine Order

hero_Divine-Order-2017.jpg

* * * 1/2

With impeccable timing, along comes a film about Switzerland’s women’s rights movement to remind us that speaking up, coming forward and raising your voice has always been difficult, but that solidarity, organisation and a commitment to unity are the keys to enacting change. And, that the first wave of protestors faced a far more entrenched system of repression.’

In the case of Switzerland in 1971, women were not only not allowed to vote, they couldn’t – if married to a working man – take a job without his permission. The patriarchal system was self-perpetuating, with the occasional poll for women’s suffrage (the one prior to 1971 was in 1959) allowing only men to vote. Catch 22, indeed.

Writer and director Petra Volpe’s film, looking at her country’s belated historical moment through the prism of a married mother organising the women in her town to lobby – and strike (their household ‘duties’) – for change, may be a fictional story, but it is deeply researched, and the production design is astonishing. I suppose Switzerland, for a number of reasons, has more than its share of extant architecture from the period, and Volpe’s chosen location of the town of Trogen,  in Appenzell Ausserrhoden, seems to be quite a time capsule, but the film’s attention to period detail goes well beyond its buildings, streets, props, costumes and hairstyles; even the cinematography seems to come from the period: The Divine Order is lit like the early 70s.

The cast – who are all unknown to me – are all terrific, acting in a completely realist manner. This is a dramatic film, and while there is gentle humour, and triumph, nothing is overplayed. One can imagine a British version of this film, in the vein of Pride, Kinky Boots et al, strenuously urging your goosebumps to rise up and cheer. The Divine Order is simply more, well, Swiss. Its dignity and reserve are inseparable.