The Human Resources Manager

Director: Eran Riklis
Starring: Mark Ivanir, Gila Almagor and Guri Alfi
Distributor: Independent
Runtime: 103 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Coarse language

Set in Jerusalem in 2002, The Human Resources Manager begins in a desultory fashion in a large bakery where thousands of assembly line ‘challahs’ (special braided bread eaten by Jews on religious holidays) are being placed into plastic bags.

This mundane activity is set against the backdrop of almost routine terrorist attacks, and focuses on the bakery’s human resources manager (Mark Ivanir) who is summoned by his employer, known simply as ‘the Widow’ (Gila Almagor), after news breaks in a tabloid newspaper that one of the victims of a recent suicide attack was an Eastern Orthodox immigrant worker called Yulia (Galina Ozerner), who was on the bakery’s payroll.

Yulia’s body has lain unidentified in the Jerusalem morgue for weeks until a bakery payslip was discovered in her pocket, and to stem criticism that the company is indifferent and neglectful, the Widow instructs the human resources manager (who she blames for the damaging, unwelcome brouhaha) to make amends by accompanying the corpse back to her native country (in ‘real life’ Romania) for burial.

HR is a mild-mannered ex-military man, and his life is complicated. Divorced and struggling to fulfil his commitments as a father to his young daughter (Roni Koren), life is difficult enough without voyaging with a corpse and motley crew of companions, into the wintry wastes of a backward East European nation, still likely to be hostile to Jews.

While the outline of The Human Resources Manager is simple, its hidden meaning and droll execution in the form of a ‘road movie’ is not. Nothing about the story’s development is predictable, and like most of life’s meaningful journeys, where the film is headed is never fully demarcated.

Based on the 2004 novel by A B Yehoshua, written when the barrier/wall separating Israel from the West Bank was being built, The Human Resources Manager is about a man tired of conflict, his boss, his wife, the press and the world, an exemplar of Israel’s ‘battle fatigue’.

Audiences expecting more overtly political fare from Israeli director Eran Riklis (The Lemon Tree, The Syrian Bride) could be forgiven for thinking that they have walked into a quirky Nordic road movie along the lines of Aki Kaurismaki’s Leningrad Cowboys.

But through the human resources manager’s encounters with Yulia’s troubled teenage son (Noah Silver), her formidable Orthodox mother (Irina Petrescu), and a cast of entirely believable but eccentric characters (including ‘Weasel’, the tiresome Israeli tabloid reporter who is animated only by the need to get a good story), HR discovers in his convoluted odyssey a sense of shared humanity, and is reminded of his own emotional isolation.

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