The Human Resources Manager
Synopsis: The HR manager (Mark Ivanir) of Israel's largest industrial bakery sets out to save the reputation of his business and prevent the publication of a defamatory article.
Romanian road trip takes a familiar path.
Despite being entirely likable in every respect, there remains a gnawing sense of the pedestrian about Eran Riklis’ The Human Resources Manager. The director’s commitment to finding the emotional centre of quiet moments – a skill that served the Israeli-born filmmaker exceptionally well in his last film, 2008’s The Lemon Tree – tends to highlight that not much else in going on in the rest of his film most of the time.
Mark Ivanir captures the personality of the titular character with unsentimental warmth, aided by a script by Noah Stollman that fully realises the strengths and weaknesses of the protagonist at the centre of Abraham B. Jehoshua’s novel. But it is this particularly acute eye that also proves counterproductive to the supporting cast of characters. Whereas the HR Manager has a vast back-story, many of the secondary leads seem to exist entirely to serve his journey. It is not entirely condemning to point this out – each have their moments in the lead characters cathartic destiny – but none seem as wholly real.
The plot – strikingly similar to Jonathan Dayton’s and Valerie Faris’ Little Miss Sunshine, 2006, if you break it down – centres on Ivanir’s HRM (for EPL fans, the spitting image of Chelsea FC owner, Roman Abramovich), who finds himself in the middle of an embarrassing situation as the personnel boss of Israel’s largest bakery. A Romanian-born employee has died, victim of a suicide bombing, and it is revealed that she is still on the payroll, despite being dismissed a month prior. A journalist has centred in on the potentially explosive predicament the bakery’s owner (Gila Almagor) is in. Initially, the owner demands the HRM solve this overnight, but then asks him to swallow his pride and escort the body back to Romania to secure a death certificate signature from the Grandmother (Irina Petrescu), the only surviving, legally-binding relative of the deceased.
So a cross-continent journey begins, in which the HRM, the journalist (played as an unlikable jerk by Guri Alfi), a driver with no license (Papil Panduru), a lowly representative of the Israeli consulate in Romania (Julian Negulesco) and the surly teenage son of the deceased woman (Noah Silver) must all get along on the road trip to the poor but spiritual rural heartland of Romania. Obstacles, both (gently) comical and tragic, present themselves at regular intervals – corrupt officials, emotional outbursts, challenging weather and mechanical faults.
The HRM has his own personal problems – a daughter from whom he is separated on the eve of her first dance recital – but he has grown close to the spirit of his charge. A nice moment aboard a ferry, where the son shares a phone-stored image of the dead woman captured on the same spot the HRM stands is the film’s most enduring sequence.
But the film heads towards its final act utilising some very twee moments: the HRM and the son commandeer an all-terrain army vehicle, strapping the woman’s coffin to the roof; a gaggle of Romanian villagers gather for the bodies arrival, yet she hasn’t been to her small hometown in years. (Tellingly, the Grandmother sends her corpse away for that very reason.) And just how long would a corpse last in such open conditions anyway?
The Human Resources Manager is a lovingly-crafted story; Riklis captures and inspires a sense of character and regional authenticity in his work, just as he did so wonderfully with The Lemon Tree. But there is also a nagging degree of contrivance with this film; one can sense the narrative beats of a journey that feels familiar despite its determinedly foreign setting and characters. There are a lot of challenging, marketable international films that are programmed into capital city film festivals every year; I liked The Human Resources Manager, but why such a safe, mostly unremarkable film secured a cinema run when others were overlooked is worth discussing.
Watch Films Online
Films on SBS TV
SBS Film Guide to...
Celebrate Australian filmmaking with this home-grown season. Starts May 25.
A month of movies with an edge. Saturday nights in April.