On the road, with a corpse
By Rachel Saslow
Friday, April 29, 2011
Is springtime in Washington too joyful for you? Are the azaleas and sunny afternoons making you too happy? There is a cure. It’s “The Human Resources Manager,” a depressing and slow Israeli film guaranteed to bring even the happiest Washingtonians down.
The title character (Mark Ivanir) is an unnamed human resources manager at a Jerusalem bread factory in 2002. An employee named Yulia, a foreign worker who swept the floors, is killed in a suicide bombing. A public relations disaster for the bakery erupts when Yulia’s body is left unidentified in the morgue for a week because nobody at the company realized she had been missing and her family is abroad. (It turns out that she was fired weeks before her death.) To repair the company’s reputation, the manager is tasked with accompanying Yulia’s body back to her family in Romania, even though he never knew her.
From there, “The Human Resources Manager” becomes a road trip movie. The participants include the manager, a pesky reporter who provides the only almost-comedy of the whole film (not enough for an audible chuckle, though) and Yulia’s son, a morose 14-year-old who fights, swears, lives on the street and is accurately referred to as “an animal.”
They set off with the corpse through frozen, rural Romania, heading for Yulia’s mother’s village. To make the setting even bleaker, the group overnights in a concrete bunker with flickering lights. They sleep five floors below the ground and eat beige-colored soup for dinner. Then, the manager gets the flu and doesn’t leave his metal bunk bed for two days. If this is supposed to be a black comedy, the darkness is so complete that no joke can shine through.
If director Eran Riklis’s intention is to show the blossoming humanity, so to speak, of a human resources manager, the transformation is much too subtle to work. Despite previous wins with “Lemon Tree” and “The Syrian Bride,” Riklis misses here. His manager shows compassion at the beginning of the film when he offers to chaperone his daughter’s field trip in order to lift her spirits, so it’s no surprise when he bonds with Yulia’s son or cries with her grieving mother.
The main character is stagnant, and the plot revolves around delivering a corpse and peaks with a funeral. The most interesting thing about “The Human Resources Manager” is how low it can go.
In Hebrew, Romanian and English with English subtitles. Contains adult situations.