Corporate arrogance mixed with media meddling lead to a 1000+-kilometer trip of interpersonal discovery in the Israeli film "The Human Resource Manager". If dehumanization is the central moral examination of the film, then offbeat quirk is the modus operandi. From the plot (ignited by Jerusalem's largest industrial bakery's failure to notice when one its employees turns up dead) to the characters general lack of proper names (the credits literally read "Mark Ivanir as the Human Resources Manager, Noah Silver as The Boy, etc.), modern callousness is the idiosyncratic commentary of the day.
In the film, a suicide bomber killed a young woman several weeks ago. The press ceases upon the fact that she was carrying a recent paycheck from the bakery/factory. When a reporter discovers that the company in question doesn't even realize that one of their employees has been missing, he goes forward with a condemning expose. Despite the fact that the company's human resources manager is given the opportunity to get to the bottom of who the dead woman really was before the article sees print - a task he successfully completes early on, potentially able to clear the company of any perceived duplicity - his findings (the truth) are shelved in favor of a perplexing public relations move. The corporate bigwig of the bakery decides to spin the negative press they received over the overlooked employee death by publicly overseeing delivery of her body to her relatives. And the HR manager is just the guy for the job! What no one realizes at the time is that the deceased woman's family is a disjointed and spread-out one, resulting in a mission that takes the hapless human resources manager thousands of miles away from home.
The semi-weightiness of the storyline settles down after the first twenty or so minutes, giving way to a road trip of mismatched characters as they ride in a dilapidated VW bus on a quest they don't want to be on. Even as the logical point of the trip begins to slowly break down along the way, the self-discovery and unintended altruism factor increasingly ramps up. Can it be that what begins as a shallow attempt to save corporate face results in some honest to goodness decency? Can people begin to look past themselves and see the beauty of others, even others we don't know? And when it comes to human tendency to look out for number one at the expense of others, are any of us truly not guilty? These are the questions that "The Human Resources Manager" is interested in, and tends to ask repeatedly in its particular off-kilter way.
The fact that this film is being released theatrically in the United States is interesting. It is not a great movie (although certainly above average), but should it find an audience, it will appease those looking to get their foreign/indy groove on while also being moderately entertained. It could be looked at as a sort of third-world "Little Miss Sunshine" with a sprinkling of "Syriana" (although it is actually based upon a novel by Abraham B. Jehoshua). It is marketed as a dark comedy drama, although the otherwise terrific cast members sometimes seem slightly uncertain which beat to play when, which results in a strange emotional concoction to behold.
The snow-capped location scenery - shot across several countries in obviously frigid conditions - is eye pleasing, to be sure, and the altruistic point of the film (family first!) is explored in a non-conventional way. Likewise, the unrelenting guilt-laden condemnation of the individual characters, even as they strive to do right, is fascinating, if heavy-handed (for example: The intentionally irritating reporter's character name is actually "The Weasel", played by Guri Alfi). But the resulting film feels not so much refreshing as a long cross-country, cross-cultural trudge. Even with a running time just around a uninimidating100 minutes, you too may feel that despite the scenery and unique journey of self-discovery, this long trip makes you ultimately long for home.
- Jim Tudor
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