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Movie review: 'Human Resources Manager'

In this warm and wise drama from Israel, a visit to another country becomes a journey toward understanding.

March 11, 2011|By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • Mark Ianir, right, in "The Human Resources Manager."
Mark Ianir, right, in "The Human Resources Manager." (Film Movement )

Both geographically and dramatically, "The Human Resources Manager" covers a lot of territory.

The latest work from director Israeli director Eran Riklis, it travels from Jerusalem to the capital of an unnamed Eastern Europe country (filming was done in Romania) and then to the far hinterlands of that beleaguered nation.

In terms of narrative, "Human Resources Manager" adroitly mixes moving personal drama, absurdist comedy and site-specific cultural situations. More than anything, this is an intelligent audience picture, a solid and engrossing piece of old-school filmmaking, both humane and character driven, in which the various protagonists learn something — not too much and not too easily — about the nature of their lives.

Riklis is one of Israel's top directors, best known in this country for the more overtly political "Lemon Tree" and "The Syrian Bride." Though a change of pace, "Human Resources Manager" was one of Riklis' most successful films, winning five Israeli academy awards, including best picture.

It's also a film that's very Israeli in its characters and motivations, which is not surprising given that it's based on a novel by the celebrated A.B. Yehoshua, called "A Woman in Jerusalem" when it was published here in 2006.

It was Yehoshua's conceit, which the film repeats, to allow none of the characters, starting with the human resources manager himself, to have a given name. The only person dignified with a name is Yulia Ragayev, a woman we never meet but the person whose death starts the story.

A non-Jewish immigrant from that unnamed country, Yulia is killed in a Jerusalem suicide bombing. Because she has no family in the country, her body should have been claimed by her employer, the city's largest bakery, but for a variety of reasons, some bureaucratic, some personal, this never happened.

It's an indication of the way Israeli society sometimes views itself as one close-knit albeit very large family that that mistake is seized upon by a muckraking newspaper and the bakery is publicly accused of lack of humanity and criminal neglect. It's up to the company's human resources manager (Mark Ivanir) to make things right.

A multilingual actor with several American credits, including "Schindler's List" and "The Good Shepherd," Ivanir hits just the right notes as the manager. The character may be driven and relentless, as well as someone grappling with personal problems of his own, but the actor allows us to see the decency underneath the irritation.

Prodded by the widow who owns the bakery (Gila Almagor) and accompanied by the obnoxious reporter who broke the story (identified as "Weasel" in the credits and played by Guri Alfi), the human resources manager finds himself having to accompany the body back to Yulia's homeland, where even more complications lie in wait for him.

Helped by the bossy Israeli consul (Rozina Cambos), the manager has to find someone to sign for the body and also decide on a place to bury it. He gets increasingly drawn into the drama surrounding this woman and becomes more and more determined to do the right thing by her, no matter what it costs him personally. What the manager says about Israel — "nothing is easy here, and everything is complicated" — could stand as well as a description of this most unexpected film.

kenneth.turan@latimes.com

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