'Her Job': Film Review | TIFF 2018

A well-observed study of one woman’s unlikely liberation.

Greek writer-director Nikos Labot’s feature debut premiered in Toronto’s Discovery section.

The socioeconomic turmoil of contemporary Greece is distilled into the simple yet effective story of one woman who finds gainful employment as a professional cleaner in Her Job, which marks a promising feature debut for writer-director Nikos Labot.

Told in a straightforward, realistic manner that at times recalls the Dardenne brothers, the film reveals how one of the most basic and least valued vocations can still mean the world for someone struggling to support a family and, even more so, to find a sense of self-worth. Bolstered by star Marisha Triantafyllidou’s subtly touching turn, this Toronto Discovery premiere could find a few pickups in Europe and elsewhere.

In the very first shot, 37-year-old housewife Panayiota (Triantafyllidou) is seen fervently vacuuming the floors of her modest apartment, which she shares with an out-of-work husband, Kostas (Dimitris Imellos), as well as a bratty daughter and timid younger son. Obliged to do all the chores while Kostas gambles away his unemployment money or complains about the state of the nation (news reports of the Greek crisis are constantly heard in the background), Panayiota has little say in a household where she’s seen as nothing much more than a servant — or, perhaps, as a cleaning lady.

Thus, when a neighbor tells her they’re hiring at a brand-new shopping mall called “Le Marche,” Panayiota heads over and is immediately brought on as a full-time cleaner, with a daily routine of mopping, scrubbing and driving an industrial vacuum. For most of the workers, including the cheery and supportive Maria (Maria Filini), it’s a barely tolerable dead-end job, but for Panayiota, it actually spells freedom — from a domineering husband, a spoiled tween and a life of unpaid drudgery at home.

With few lines of dialogue, Labot and co-writer Katerina Kleitsioti skillfully convey Panayiota’s burgeoning autonomy as she receives her first paycheck, learns how to drive a car and gets saddled with overtime by her sneaky manager (Konstantintos Gogoulos). In reality, she’s being fully exploited by a service that relies on underpaid temp workers, with half the staff fired once the mall opens. The fact that Panayiota is illiterate — “You’d still be in your village if it weren’t for me,” says Kostas, who may be one of the worst husbands in movie history — means that she’ll sign any contract they hand her, seeing the job as both a way to put food on the table and a way out of her old life.

Triantafyllidou barely cracks a smile for the first half of the movie, playing a woman who’s been beaten down for so long she can hardly stand up straight. But as the story progresses, she shows Panayiota coming into her own, grabbing drinks with the other cleaners on her days off, using an ATM card for the very first time and generally enjoying life as a full-time employee. A telling scene in the third act has Panayiota celebrating her birthday in the locker room, where the other workers throw a surprise party, only to arrive back home to find that her own family forgot about it.

There are parts of Her Job that recall the excellent and underseen Georgian dramedy My Happy Family (2017), about a working mom who moves out of a crowded house to get some peace, quiet and emancipation. If this film is more solemn and low-key in its approach, it still offers up an insightful portrait of a woman who manages to liberate herself from an oppressive home life and finds happiness outside the family unit. Ultimately, Her Job is less about the job than about the possibilities it offers.

Production companies: Homemade Films, Sister Productions, Sense Production
Cast: Marisha Triantafyllidou, Dimitris Imellos, Konstantinos Gogoulos, Maria Filini, Eleni Karagiorgi, Danai Primali
Director: Nikos Labot
Screenwriters: Nikos Labot, Katerina Kleitsioti
Producers: Maria Drandaki, Julie Paratian
Director of photography: Dionysis Efthymiopoulos
Production designer: Dafni Koutra
Costume designer: Vasilia Rozana
Editor: Dounia Sichov
Composer: Onno
Sales: Jour2Fete
Venues: Toronto International Film Festival (Discovery)

In Greek
89 minutes