The hapless hero in "The Human Resources Manager" keeps trying to do the right thing. But what's really appropriate in the wake of a suicide bombing, and what are the best ways to honor the dead at a time when the bodies of innocents keep piling up?
This Israeli import, now available on DVD, finds humor in some very dark places. But it excels at showing both the healing that can come from stepping far from one's comfort zone to the burdens placed upon a society living under the constant threat of terrorism.
The titular human resources manager, given a restrained intensity by Mark Ivanir, is caught flat-footed when he learns his bakery company is about to be slammed by a newspaper for its connection to a recent suicide bombing in Jerusalem. The attack killed a woman on the bakery's payroll, but the company hasn't done a thing to honor her memory or help with the funeral expenses.
So the manager is tasked with making things right, or at least doing a little damage control. He's ordered to escort the woman's body back to her native Romania so she'll receive a proper, dignified burial. But the deceased left behind a tangle of family strife, from an indifferent ex-husband to a teen son who appears almost feral in his adolescent angst.
The manager's task is made even harder by the presence of a reporter eager to show corporations in an unflattering light.
Israeli director Eran Riklis ("Lemon Tree") uses farcical episodes to power his movie, set in 2002 when suicide bombings captured Israeli headlines. The director never crosses the line into exploitation or poor taste, nor does his subtle approach to the politics behind the story detract from the film itself.
"The Human Resources Manager" provides an effective character study of a man dealing with extremes. It's also the tale of a life lost in a senseless bombing, and of all the moving parts that come to a halt with her passing. The film doesn't glorify the victim. We barely get to know her at all. Riklis offers a brief cell phone video of her, and yet watching her stare into the tiny camera gives us a haunting image that lasts long after the credits appear.
"Manager's" final 15 minutes belabor the points already made, from the comical bureaucratic snafus that drive the manager to distraction to the complications that ensue with a multicultural forces pulling at the deceased woman. Still, the film provides as much closure as a tragic tale can muster.
"The Human Resources Manager," based on the 2006 novel "A Women in Jerusalem" by A.B. Yehoshua, won five Israeli Academy Awards - including Best Picture. Stateside audiences may not connect with some of the social mores dotting the narrative, but it's impossible not to plug in to the levels of grief permeating every scene.