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The Human Resources Manager

Israel 2010
Directed by
Eran Riklis
103 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

The Human Resources Manager

Synopsis:The HR Manager (Mark Avanir) of Jerusalem’s biggest bakery has lots of troubles on his plate. His marriage is imploding, he hates his job, and recently one of his employees has been killed in a suicide bombing. When the body lays unclaimed for ages and a pay-check from the bakery is found in her possession, the media accuses the company of gross inhumanity and callousness. Somehow the HRM is inveigled into accompanying the body of the woman back to her home village in Romania, and so begins a very odd road trip.

The epithets "quirky" and "little gem", though much overused, spring to mind when I think of this dark comedy from the director of Lemon Tree (2008). Eran Riklis’s film covers a lot of territory, both metaphorically and literally, with characters learning just enough about themselves to make a difference to their lives as we travel between two quite different societies –self-absorbed Israel and far-flung, snow-bound rural Romania. It is interesting that no-one, except the dead woman, actually gets a name – everyone is defined by their pigeon-holing roles in life. And so, along with the main characters we also have The Widow, a woman in charge of the bakery, the Consul, a whacky ambassador from Israel to Romania, and the Driver, a peasanty fellow employed to drive the vehicle carrying the coffin.

The idea of belonging looms large –the dead woman, Yulia, was neither Jewish nor “belonged” in Israel (probably an illegal immigrant worker), but how closely is she now linked to her remote homeland? Where does the HRM belong, now that his marriage is dissolving, and his daughter and he are alienated? I was reminded somewhat of the wonderful film, The Band’s Visit (2007), in which an Egyptian band turns up to play a concert in Israel. That self-contained, fiercely self-protective land seems to have a way of making “other” people into outsiders, as reflected by the HRM’s heartless comment that it was “not important” that anyone knew of Yulia’s death. There are also strong reminders of Everything Is Illuminated (2005) in which a young boy searches for his Ukranian roots.

Redemption is always at hand in stories of this nature. Avanir gives a subtly measured, likeable performance as the troubled HRM. Guri Alfi as the obnoxious journalist is strong, while young Noah Silver as the son captures all the dichotomies of angry disaffected, but ultimately needy youth.

The whole road-trip feel, accompanied by moments of zany gypsy music, give a rather surreal edge to proceedings, whilst the scenes of Romanian village life are a stark and fascinating reminder that parts of the world are almost locked away in time.  Although the subject matter is actually quite serious (one dead woman, a dysfunctional son who is totally distraught, and a malcontent HRM), humour is injected by way of the scripting, the acting and the somewhat absurd situations that develop and ultimately The Human Resources Manager is a film which embraces the lighter moments of life.




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