When a scandal threatens the reputation of Jerusalem's biggest bakery it is up to the company's human resources manager to somehow salvage the firm's reputation, in director Eran Riklis' latest The Human Resources Manager. Israel's Oscar submission and Best Picture winner at the Israeli Academy Awards is an amiable but dark dramedy. Adapted from a novel by Israeli writer Abraham B. Jehoshua, the film should resonate equally with lovers of low-key tragi-comedies and offbeat road movies.
Taking a cue from Jehoshua's book, the only character with a name is the woman whose death sets the plot in motion. Yulia was a Romanian migrant whose body languishes in the morgue for several days after she is killed in a suicide bombing. Finally identified by a paycheck found on her person, a tabloid reporter a.k.a. The Weasel (Guri Alfi) accuses Yulia's employer, the bakery, of indifference in not reporting her missing in the wake of the bombing. The public relations disaster becomes the human resource manager's (Mark Ivanir) personal nightmare and it takes him, with The Weasel in tow, to Romania, to accompany Yulia's body to her home country. The task grows complicated when the woman's surly 14-year-old son (Noah Silver) insists that the body must be delivered to his mother's hometown in a remote village, a task made even more difficult by a winter storm.
With the stranger in a strange land motif, the movie plays a little bit like the 2007 Israeli dramedy The Band's Visit and Liev Shreiber's Everything Is Illuminated rolled into one. As the human resources manager is hauling a coffin wherever he goes, it also resembles the 1961 Canadian import Highway 61, minus the rock 'n' roll and the devil. For the human resources manager, who already hates his job, the trip begins as one more rotten task. He resents the responsibility and being separated from his daughter. In Romania, he finds a country that, as the Romanian consul remarks, "is neither east nor west." The bureaucracy is complicated. The Weasel won't leave him alone. Yulia's son is an angry brat. But as the trip wears on it ceases to be a burden and becomes a kind of quest as the human resources manager becomes determined to do right by Yulia.
There are some striking images in The Human Resources Manager: an assembly line full of bread, a tank lumbering through snowy terrain, villagers gathered for a quirky send-off. The characters are memorable, but none more so than the titular protagonist. Ivanir is terrific as man beset by difficulties at home and unhappier still to find himself on the road; he surprises no one more than himself with the discovery that he is capable of generosity and grace.
Distributor: Film Movement
Cast: Mark Ivanir, Gila Almagor, Noah Silver, Guri Alfi, Irina Petrescu, Julien Negulesco and Rosina Kambus
Director: Eran Riklis
Screenwriter: Noah Stollman
Producer: Tudor Giurgiu, Thanassis Karathanos, Talia Kleinhendler, Haim Mecklberg, Estee Yacov-Mecklberg and Elie Meirovitz
Genre: Drama; Hebrew- and Romanian-languages, subtitled
Running Time: 103 min
Release Date: March 3 NY, March 11 LA