Review: The Human Resources Manager

The Human Resources Manager has had a truly terrible day – and it is about to get worse.

Mark Ivanir’s wonderfully woeful hangdog features find the zenith of their expression in Eran Riklis’s latest film, screened in preview by the UK Jewish Film Festival at London’s Tricycle Cinema last weekend.

Based on AB Yehoshua’s novella, A Woman in Jerusalem, Riklis’s film is warm, funny, and ultimately uplifting.

Essentially a road movie, it follows the fortunes of the unnamed Human Resources Manager, who works for Jerusalem’s biggest bakery. He is mid-divorce and has aggravation on all sides: from his almost ex-wife, who knows he is never going to be able to keep the promises he makes; from his disappointed teenage daughter, who is used to her father as a near-permanent no-show in her life; and from the wily bakery owner, The Widow (played with snake-like perfection by veteran Israeli actress Gila Almagor), who is simply disappointed with the manager’s work.

At the end of a long day sorting through the personnel files the Manager is really ready to go home, until summoned by the Widow and a copy of the city’s most muckraking tabloid shoved in his face. A foreign worker has been caught up in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem and, appallingly, has lain unidentified in the city morgue until a reporter, ploughing through her personal effects, realises that she once worked for the Widow’s bakery.

Determined to make a grand gesture, the Widow decides that the Manager must accompany Yulia’s body back to her family in Romania. A truly nightmare journey ensues, in which the Manager must deal with, and keep sweet, a motley cast of characters, including The Weasel – the reporter who sparked the whole story in the first place.

We meet the Israeli consul in Bucharest, who is a Jewish mamma who gabbles in Hebrew, and her Romanian husband, the vice-consul; Yulia’s bitter and violent ex-husband; her disaffected teenage son, who lives with a feral gang at the foot of a crumbling apartment block; and, finally, Yulia’s disappointed mother, who lives at the back of beyond, miles from what passes for civilisation.

Astonishingly Riklis filmed this bittersweet story in just 31 days, very fast in comparison to the dreamy on-screen atmosphere. In an entertaining Q&A after the film, he told the audience that Mark Ivanir was a Russian-born actor who had made aliya but whom Riklis had rejected nearly 20 years ago for one of his films, regarding him as “too Russian.”

Instead, Ivanir got a cameo part in Schindler’s List and now lives and works in Hollywood, but returned to Israel for The Human Resources Manager, bringing, Riklis suggested, an American approach to the part.

Whichever the case, Ivanir shines off the screen, giving a sympathetic and unshowy performance which takes the viewer deep into the soul of a man determined to do what he can to make things right. We are left hoping that Yulia’s final resting place is appropriate, that the Manager and his wife kiss and make up, and that the Widow gives him a break.

Sadly there is no UK distribution date yet for the film. Production people should get their act together.

Last updated: 9:45am, February 22 2011