Depending on what part of the world you reside in, the notion of the “free market” means different things. While most see it as basic supply and demand, there are some corporations that see the free market as an excuse to exploit their employees for greater financial gain. It is this type of exploitation that Polish singer and composer Maria Sadowska focuses on in her directorial debut Women’s Day
Women’s Day begins with Halina (Katarzyna Kwiatkowska), a single mother and cashier at the local Butterfly supermarket chain, being offered a promotion that will ultimately change her life forever. Moving up to a store manager role, Halina sees this as a great opportunity for a better life for her and her teenage daughter, Misia (Julia Czuraj). After enduring a training session in which the company mantra of “Productivity” is reiterated over and over, Halina quickly discovers how seriously the mantra is taken. Halina begins to feel pressure from the Regional Manager, Eryk (Eryk Lubos), to make drastic changes to ensure productivity is increased and costs are lowered.

At first Halina is morally opposed to making the requested changes as her staff is already pushed to their limits. However, when Eryk threatens to fire her, Halina blindly follows all of Eryk’s orders without thinking of the ramifications. These tasks include falsifying time sheets to ensure that her part-time employees do not get paid overtime despite working fourteen hour days, and forcing manual labour despite knowing the medical conditions of particular staff. Halina even orders her staff to reopen the store after a customer unexpectedly drops dead, regardless of the fact that the deceased is still laying there in plain view. If those decisions were not bad enough, Halina starts having an affair with Eryk even though he is married with a wife suffering from MS.

Sadly Halina does not realize the consequences of her actions until it is too late. Once tragedy occurs, Halina soon finds herself on the outside looking in. In an attempt to right the numerous wrongs she has done, Halina decides to take the parent company of the Butterfly supermarket chain to court. However, Halina does not anticipate how ugly, or dangerous, the legal battle will become.

While the David versus Goliath battle between a person and a giant corporation may not be a new plot device, Maria Sadowska manages to craft a film that is extremely engaging despite its overall predictability. Although her first film, Sadowska proves that she knows how to draw out just the right performances from her cast. Katarzyna Kwiatkowska in particular does an exceptional job as Halina, she brings a vulnerability to the role that never feels false. The progression from corporate lackey to strong independent woman allows Kwiatkowska to display her strong range.

As far as feature debuts go, Sadowska proves that she is a talent to watch. She not only has a firm grasp on the various character dynamics in the film, but corporate corruption as well. She offers a strong commentary on how women are unfairly treated by certain organizations, and the fact that society has not evolved as far as it thinks it has. Though her direction is strong, Sadowska’s script could use a little tightening up. Considering how familiar the premise is, Women’s Day does feel a little episodic as you know exactly which notes will be hit next. This is especially noticeable when certain events, which you see coming, occur solely to add another layer of emotion to the film.

Fortunately for Sadowska, the flaws in the film are things that can easily be corrected as her filmmaking career progresses. Despite the formulaic nature of the film, it is hard not to get sucked into Women’s Day. Katarzyna Kwiatkowska’s strong performance, coupled with Sadowska’s poignant social commentary, makes Women’s Day an engaging film that will have you cheering for Halina by the time it ends.

Women’s Day is screening on Saturday October 27th, 3 pm at The Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Ave). Tickets can be purchased at the Ekran – Toronto Polish Film Festival website.