The Human Resources Manager (Film Movement, NR)

Instead, like the Magical Negroes so beloved of certain American filmmakers, they exist only to help members of the privileged classes get in touch with their humanity.



Israeli director Eran Riklis made his reputation with cinematic fables about the conflicts between the powerful and the powerless in Israel, from Cup Final (1991) to Lemon Tree (2008). He continues this pattern with The Human Resources Manager with the difference that the disenfranchised in his latest film are not the Palestinians but guest workers; people from poor countries brought in to do the jobs that Israelis are disinclined to do for themselves.

But The Human Resources Manager is not really about guest workers—instead, like the Magical Negroes so beloved of certain American filmmakers, they exist only to help members of the privileged classes get in touch with their humanity. The beneficiary in this case is the prosperous Israeli human resources manager (Mark Ivanir) of an industrial bakery who is suffering from a bad case of the mid-life blahs. None of the characters in this film, with the exception of Yulia the Magical Guest Worker, have names, so for the sake of convenience let’s call Ivanir’s character the HRM.

When Yulia is killed in a suicide bombing it becomes a public scandal that no one comes to claim her body. Said scandal is whipped up by a self-serving journalist (Guri Alfi) whose general approach to his trade is summed up in the fact that the other characters refer to him as "the weasel." I’d be more inclined to refer to him as "the annoying man who won’t shut up," but anyway, he makes much hay out of the fact that Yulia was apparently employed by the HRM’s bakery, yet they didn’t seem to notice her demise. It turns out that she had been fired four weeks earlier, raising questions about why a recent paycheck was found on her body.

The HRM is thus immediately faced with two tasks: solve the mystery of the illicit paycheck and get the story of the abandoned guest worker out of the headlines. For this film to work you have to believe that the Israeli public has so passionate an interest in the welfare of guest workers that the death of one of them could supply material for an ongoing, front-page story. But this is that kind of film, and if you’re not willing to go with it then you’re better off choosing something else to watch.

Besides movies are magic, right? The deceased Yulia starts exerting her magic on the HRM early in their non-acquaintance; tasked to identify the body, he visits her apartment and it dawns on him that, just like him, she has friends and family and is actually a human being even if she is a non-Jewish non-citizen. Before long he’s accompanying her body back to her unnamed Eastern European country of origin (this part was shot in Romania) for burial and learning all sorts of life lessons along the way. Also along for the ride are the weaselly reporter and the woman’s homeless son, because a carefully assembled pack of contrasting fellow travelers is a requirement for any good road movie.

The Human Resources Manager is not a terrible film, but it’s not very good, either, and I’m surprised it was Israel’s nomination for the foreign language Oscar. Although the technical aspects of the film are well executed and there are times when the intended humor works, there are many more where it doesn’t and overall it’s much too long (particularly once the characters leave Israel) and dependent on stereotypes. Ivanir gives an impressive performance (it’s clear that he fears ending up like Julia, disconnected from his family with no one to mark his passing) but every other character in the film is strictly one-note (the bossy consul, the two-faced boss, the troubled son). The entire film has an oddly anachronistic feel, as if Riklis had only recently become aware of the art-house films of the 1960s and decided to try his hand at making one set in the present day. The result is not entirely without merit but is really worth your time only if you have an abiding interest in contemporary Israeli society. | Sarah Boslaugh


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