Rob Edelman: The New Season

Sep 17, 2018

The summer is over. September is here. And with each fall comes the arrival of high-profile, name-brand Academy Award contenders which first will play at film festivals. Such is the case each year at Toronto, Venice, and Telluride.

One new, must-see title is IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, scripted and directed by Barry Jenkins, whose previous film is MOONLIGHT. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK will play in theaters at the end of November. Plus, it is based on a novel by James Baldwin. Next comes FIRST MAN, starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong. FIRST MAN will arrive in theaters in October. Its director is Damien Chazelle, whose previous credit is LA LA LAND. Then there is ROMA, directed and scripted by Alfonso Cuaron, a Best Director Oscar winner a few years back for GRAVITY. ROMA will come to movie houses in December. The list goes on, and on, and on...

In the upcoming weeks and months, much will be written about IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, FIRST MAN, ROMA, and so many others. However, what intrigues me are the countless titles currently making the rounds of film festivals that are not name-brands and automatic Oscar contenders. Many are from foreign countries, and feature subtitles. They do not even have U.S. distribution. Their creators are hoping to be noticed at festivals and come away with sparkling reviews and headlines, and distribution deals. Their publicists aggressively sell these films, labeling them “provocative,” “unforgettable,” “powerful,” “amusing,” “highly original.” And so on... For after all, that is what publicists are paid for.

Still, a number of these films are worth seeing and pondering. One, for example, is an Israeli film. Its title is WORKING WOMAN, and its director and writer is Michel Aviad. Its central character is Orna, who is married and the mother of three. Her husband’s restaurant business is failing, and this adds to her pressure regarding paying the family bills. So Orna accepts a job working for a realtor, who is “building a high rise by the sea.” She is promised that, if she does well, she will earn “bonuses.” Yet part of “doing well” involves readily accepting her boss’s unwanted advances. How will she respond? Will her turn-downs translate into outright harassment? Also, if a woman is successful in business, does her sexuality always come into play? And if she is exploited, should she be blaming herself? This last point is one of the keys to understanding Orna.

WORKING WOMAN is no angry, in-your-face actioner. It is appropriately subtle, and this adds to its point-of-view. It exudes intelligence, and it is a sobering reminder that women are not only exploited in the U.S., or in Hollywood. To its credit, it is not a one-note story of heroines going up against and smashing dastardly villains. Orna is determined to change and grow and be her own person, and this is commendable, while her husband and employer are, at their core, weak and helpless. WORKING WOMAN is a definitive reminder that the only new films that are well-worth seeing are not those directed by Barry Jenkins, Damien Chazelle, and Alfonso Cuaron.

Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

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