D: Eran Riklis / 99m
Cast: Mark Ivanir, Guri Alfi, Noah Silver, Rosina Kambus, Julian Negulesco, Bogdan E. Stanoevitch, Irina Petrescu, Gila Almagor, Reymonde Amsallem, Roni Karen, Papil Panduru
When an employee at a prestigious bakery in Jerusalem is killed, and her body goes unclaimed for some weeks, it leads to a public relations crisis for the company. With a newspaper article being prepared that will criticise the bakery, its owner, known as the Widow (Almagor), gives the job of defusing the matter to the human resources manager (Ivanir). He discovers that the employee was a Romanian immigrant called Yulia who had been living in Jerusalem for some time, but whose family is back in her home country. He also learns that she had been let go a month before by her supervisor, and believes that this absolves the bakery of any blame for her body going unclaimed.
However, the journalist writing the article, known as the Weasel (Alfi), publishes the article anyway. And instead of fighting any claim of negligence, the Widow decides to admit blame and pay compensation to the family; she also gives the job of escorting the body back to Romania and representing the company at the funeral to the HR manager. With his home life proving difficult to negotiate – he’s divorced and has a young daughter (Karen) he doesn’t spend enough time with – the prospect of being away for a few days isn’t ideal, but he doesn’t have a choice.
At the Widow’s request, the Weasel goes with him, which adds to his problems. And once he gets to Romania, the HR manager finds that bureaucracy and local customs place further obstacles in the way of arranging the funeral. First, Yulia’s ex-husband (Stanoevitch) can’t sign the burial form because he’s no longer family. A search for their son (Silver) reveals a wild child at odds with everyone, but who is too young to sign the form either. This leaves his grandmother (Petrescu), but she lives in a remote village that is a couple of days’ journey away. Borrowing the van used by the Israeli consul (Kambus), the HR Manager, accompanied by the Weasel, the Vice Consul (Negulesco), the son, and a driver (Panduru), make their way to the grandmother’s village. But the onset of a storm forces them to take shelter in a military barracks, where both the van breaks down, and the HR manager becomes ill…
A downbeat, yet curiously, almost accidentally uplifting adaptation of A.B. Yehoshua’s novel A Woman in Jerusalem, The Human Resources Manager is a strange beast, part black comedy, part tortuous road trip, and part voyage of discovery. These elements, fused together as they are here, work in ways that often come as a surprise, and it makes for rewarding viewing, as the HR manager finds a new lease of life from taking care of the dead.
As the HR manager learns to loosen up and out his own troubles behind him – a previous posting that went horribly wrong, his divorce, the Widow’s lack of confidence in him – he also learns how to deal with the problems of others, particularly the son, whom he eventually bonds with. It’s all done gradually and with a great deal of sympathy and warmth toward the character of the HR manager, and avoids any grand emotional gestures, preferring to keep things on an even level and without a great deal of show. This approach doesn’t undermine the characters’ experiences on their travels, but serves to keep matters realistic, and is remarkably naturalistic as well.
The movie has its quirks. No one is called by name, only by description: the son, the Vice Consul, the grandmother etc., and it makes for an everyman feel. The only person who has a name is the dead woman, Yulia. And while this may point to some notion of the movie playing with stereotypes, such is not the case. Yes, it makes for a kind of shorthand when characters are introduced, but the absence of names never becomes an issue. The same is true of Romania, obviously the country the HR manager travels to, but never named in the movie. It adds to the idea that this is a story that could happen to anyone, anywhere.
In the title role, Ivanir is a great choice, his stoic features and resigned looks fitting the character perfectly. His early frustration at being given such a job is played with just the right degree of self-absorption and rancour. As the movie develops and the HR manager becomes more involved with Yulia’s family, Ivanir portrays his new-found determination and purpose with credibility and a refreshing lack of artifice. By letting go of his life back in Israel, or at least the things he believes are important to him, and by learning that he tries to exercise too much control, he frees himself from the yoke he’s placed around his own neck. It’s an impressive, consistent performance that anchors the movie and gives the viewer someone to connect with (and root for).
The supporting characters are all fleshed out to good effect, with Silver as the angry, petulant, aggressive son, and Kambus as the waspish Consul standing out from the crowd. There’s often stunning location photography courtesy of DoP Rainer Klausmann, and the movie is edited with precision by Tova Asher. In the director’s chair, Riklis organises and orchestrates the script by Noah Stollman in such a way that each scene adds something more to the story, and enriches it as a whole. He’s also good at bringing out the less obvious emotions in a scene and rendering them accordingly, letting the story unfold in a way that keeps the viewer guessing what’s going to happen next. It all adds up to a movie that is as poignant as it is efficiently dramatic.
Rating: 8/10 – with a terrific central performance by Ivanir, The Human Resources Manager takes its time and tells its story with honesty and subdued passion; not as morbid as it may seem, this carries a warmth and a heart that makes it a lot more enjoyable than you’d imagine.