DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Human Resources Manager

Monday 6 June 2011

The Human Resources Manager

The Human Resources Manager (2010) dir. Eran Riklis
Starring: Mark Ivanir, Gila Almagor, Noah Silver, Guri Alfi, Roni Koren


By Alan Bacchus

A touching black comedy with a heart of gold, The Human Resources Manager is the story of a jaded and grumpy HR Manager stuck with the duty of delivering the corpse of a former employee to her estranged Eastern European family for burial.

Thought it’s an Israeli film, there’s a strong European flavour to it, like the work of Aki Kaurismaki. The film arrives on DVD courtesy of Film Movement, which is curating festival films as part of a DVD of the Month club. The staid, deadpan comedic tone fits in well with many of their other titles.

The film is part road trip journey, but it’s mostly a character study of the unnamed worker bee who works as the HR Manager at a large bakery in Israel. When an employee turns up dead in a car bomb explosion, the media links the worker to the bakery. After a defamatory article against the treatment of the deceased employee breaks, the company assigns our reluctant hero, the HR Manager, to band-aid the situation. This means setting the record straight with the press, a particularly suspect tabloid reporter, and making his company look thoughtful and decent. Soon the man finds himself lugging the corpse and coffin around town looking for a next of kin to relieve him of his duty.

Despite his annoyance with the situation, his conscience compels him to stay with the dead woman and find her relatives in Romania. Now he finds himself a fish out of water, a Jew in the devout Catholic, post-Communist doldrums of rural Romania, where the formerly cynical man transforms into a humane gentleman.

Director Riklis (The Syrian Bride, Lemon Tree) conveys a gritty naturalistic style typical of this kind of mid-range budget international feature. The Dardenne Brothers come to mind, but they never really had a funny bone. The dead-pan comedy and vérité authenticity reminds us of the Romanian films of today, or even some of those early Kieslowski films from Decalogue.

By its very nature, the act of transporting a dead body across such a large distance gives this an existential quality. Though we never meet the dead woman, the fact that her body is unwanted by everyone the man encounters forces us to consider the effect of her life on the lives of others. The comedic irony of the man who is barely connected to her suddenly becoming her caretaker, and thus developing a strange attachment to her, is fascinating, soulful and reflective.

The Human Resources Manager was an Official Selection at the Toronto International Film Festival, among others, and is now available as the DVD of the Month from Film Movement.

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