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Entries in Foreign (2)

Friday
Oct112019

WORKING WOMAN

Stars: Liron Ben-Shlush, Menashe Noy, Oshri Cohen, Irit Sheleg, Dorit Lev-Ari, Gilles Ben-David and Corinne Hayat.
Writers: Sharon Azulay Eyal, Michal Vinik, Michal Aviad.
Director: Michal Aviad.

Rating:★  ★ ★ ½

As immediate and urgent as any film in recent memory, Michal Aviad’s Working Woman addresses the importance of the #MeToo movement in its understated but scathing depiction of sexual harassment and patriarchal dominance. As Orna, the 30-something wife and mother whose return to professional life becomes a soul crushing daily struggle with inappropriate workplace behavior, Liron Ben-Shlush superbly portrays the anxiety and heartbreak of the victimized as well as the dignity and determination to face down an attacker she must work alongside.

Orna’s commitment to family sees her re-enter the corporate sales world. While husband Ofer (Oshri Cohen) struggles with his start-up restaurant, Orna finds an ally in her new employer Benny (Menashe Noy), a strong-willed, self-made 50-something real-estate executive, the kind of alpha-male boss who greets male underlings with boisterous good cheer while simply nodding towards his female workers. Benny increases Orna’s responsibilities and rewards her with travel and bonuses, but he has sinister motives; when alone after hours, he first tries to kiss her, then intimidates her with childish bullying.

The strong sense of self-worth Orna derives from her work is undermined by Benny’s manipulative cunning, but she learns to live with the imbalanced dynamic for the sake of her family. The isolation afforded by a work trip to Paris leads to Benny’s most ruthlessly predatory attack (staged with a shocking frankness) and proves the final straw for Orna, professionally and psychologically. However, she must now face judgment from Ofer, who reacts with selfish petulance when told of the assaults, as well as the very real prospect of being shunned in her industry.

The piercing humanistic precision that Michal Aviad honed with her decades as one of the world’s finest documentarians serves her well on Working Woman. The role that feminism and female representation play in forging a path for understanding and justice for all humans have been central to her work. Jenny & Jenny (1997) examined the lives of working class teenagers; Dimona Twist (2016) recounted the shocking experience of North-African women in 1950s Israel; Ever Shot Anyone? (1995) and The Women Next Door (1992) profiled women bound to the military life; and, Invisible (2011) examined rape from the survivor’s perspective.

There is a stark truthfulness to the drama and staging that recalls the best of The Dardennes Brothers and Thomas Vinterberg. The clarity with which Aviad presents Orna’s dilemma, striking a deeply personal chord in her leading lady’s performance while still capturing the universality of the experience, requires rare storytelling skill.

Recently honoured with the prestigious Ophir Award, Israel’s highest acting honour, for her complex ‘modern everywoman’ heroine, Liron Ben-Shlush is a soaring talent; there is not a false note in her interpretation of an abuse survivor rising above her pain. Her anguished silences turn to roars of defiance; Orna’s final confrontation with Benny, as understated but rewarding as all before it, plays on-screen as a rapturous taking-down of her gender’s arch nemesis. For the countless women faced with workplace discrimination and sexual misconduct every day, it may be the movie moment of 2019.

Saturday
May022015

THE CROW'S EGG (KAAKKA MUTTAI)

Stars: Aishwarya Rajesh, Ramesh Thilaganathan, Ramesh and Vignesh.
Writer/Director:  M. Manikandan.

Watch the trailer here.

Reviewed at the Opening Night of the 2014 Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival; the full details of the Sydney Film Festival programme are available here.

Rating: 3/5

M. Manikandan’s debut feature The Crow’s Egg is a child’s-eye tale of exuberance and kinship that only loses its focus when it wants to play grown-up.

Set against the dire conditions of Chennai’s slum metropolis (approximately a third of the population of the South Indian city live in crude shanty communities), The Crow’s Egg tells of the vibrant lives that two pre-teen brothers forge for themselves. Known only as ‘Big Crow’s Egg’ (Ramesh) and ‘Little Crow’s Egg’ (Ramesh Thilaganathan) due to their penchant for raiding bird’s nests for a quick snack, the pair indulges in good-hearted mischief as a means by which to procure a spare morsel of food or some meagre cash.

In their meanderings, they encounter glimpses of a middle-class life they realise they will never know. All this changes when corrupt developers level their only play area and build a ‘Pizza Stop’ fast-food outlet. Having nagged their harried but loving mother (Aishwarya Rajesh) into purchasing a well-worn television set, they glimpse ‘TV advertising’ for the first time and set about saving enough rupee to buy the cheapest menu item - a single slice of what is truly horrible looking pie.

Confidently embracing feature-length storytelling after his critically acclaimed 2010 short ‘Wind’, Manikandan finds joyous rapport amongst his key cast who soar in the film’s first half. The sense of family and the boy’s giddy interaction with the frantic city life in which they exist are two of The Crow’s Eggs strongest assets; the other is beautiful beige puppy that steals scenes with its very presence alone.

Less assured is a class-based subplot that boils to the surface after one of the boys has his dreams shattered with a swift, brutal slap from the pizza store owner. As phone-video footage of the incident goes viral, Manikandan’s sweet, rousing character-driven plotting becomes mired in boardroom bickering, as corporate suits and street-level franchisees argue as to how best handle the PR mess. These scenes are a miscalculation; a long section of the film jettisons the boy’s story altogether, recovering just in time for the fanciful if undeniably feel-good fadeout.  

Shooting in his native Tamil language, Manikandan shrewdly eschews the traditional Bollywood dance interludes in favour of a selection of swiftly-edited musical montages that achieve the required upbeat effect. Lazy marketing that posits the film as the Slumdog Millionaire sequel-of-sorts that apparently we have always wanted is doing Manikandan’s bittersweet gem a disservice; The Crow’s Egg lacks the polished veneer of Danny Boyle’s crowd-pleaser, but delivers a far more faithful and resonant depiction of the spirit and integrity of the Indian downtrodden than the Oscar winner ever gets close to.