Human Resources Manager, The: Israel's Oscar Entry

“The Human Resources Manager” adds another impressive panel to the growing body of work of the gifted Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis, who has previously made “The Syrian Bride” and “Lemon Tree.”
Israel’s 2010 Oscar entry has already won awards in Riklis’ home (Five Israeli Oscars including Best Picture) and in various festivals, including Audience Award at the Locarno Film Fest.
 
First, a word about the title. A literal translation from Hebrew would be “The Mission of the Human Resources Manager,” which is both more accurate and poignant.
 
Like his previous films, “Human Resources Manager” defies easy generic categorizations, blending drama and comedy, light satire and social critique, and above all propagating a universal humanist message. Indeed, though the tale is grounded in the particular socio-political context of Israel, it could take place anywhere.
 
The premise of the tale, scripted by Noah Stollman, based on the novel by the famous writer A.B. Yehoshua, sounds simple: The human resources manager of the largest bakery in Jerusalem finds himself in the unlikely position of being the chaperone of a young Russian woman?
 
Early on, it is established that the manager (extremely well played by Mark Ivanir) is an unhappy and alienated man, a well-meaning but self-centered guy who favors his career over his family life. Separated from his wife (but still in love with her), he is a disappointment to his daughter, breaking one promise after another to spend quality time with her.
 
Did I mention that none of the characters have names and that they are identified by their professional position or family role?
 
The point of the narrative is to shatter, really shake up this man out of the cocoon that he has built around himself, and make him more alert to the needs and emotions of those around him.
 
His personal crisis begins when his reputation is threatened by his boss, a tough woman (Gila Almagor), who reproaches him fro not noticing that one of their employees who goes by the name of Yulia has been missing, though she is still on the payroll.
 
It turns out that Yulia, the Russian immigrant, had died in a suicide bomb in Jerusalem, but her identity was concealed due to an affair that she had with a married man. As if to atone for his sins, the manager agrees to escort the young woman’s coffin to her hometown in Russia.
 
Thus begins a journey, which is both literal and allegorical, taken by the manager, the Israeli consul and her husband, and an aggressive and obnoxious journalist, who wishes to damage the manager and the bakery’s) reputation.
 
Along the way, which takes place in the winter in bumpy roads, we get to meet Yulia’s rebellious son, her mother, and other quirky and offbeat characters that enrich the ever-changing tale.
 
The closure, which is extremely satisfying, cannot be told here, but suffice is to say that director Riklis infuses what could have been a grim and dark tale with humor and even pathos, handling somber events with a light touch.
 
Above all, Riklis proves himself to be a humanist filmmaker, showing how bizarre and unexpected circumstances can change (and melt down) the most selfish and guarded person by forcing him to be more alert to those around him, including an “insignificant” employee in a bakery, who up until then had been just a number, or a case, in an impersonal bureaucracy.