Human Resources Manager, The

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 03/04/11 21:00:00

"Names are optional, but viewing is essential."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

With ‘The Human Resoruces Manager,’ Israeli director Eran Riklis has managed to create dozens of believably human characters. That shouldn’t be surprising, since he’s also responsible for the deeply involving film ‘The Lemon Tree.’ Nonetheless, his feat seems astonishing when you consider that neither he nor screenwriter Noah Stollman have given any of the characters names.

Actually, one character in the film, Yulia, does have a name, but she’s dead before the opening credits roll. The title character (subtly played by Ukranian-born actor Mark Ivanir) works at Jerusalem’s biggest bakery and is shocked to discover that an employee he’s never met has come to a tragic end during a suicide bombing.

Thanks to a crooked night shift supervisor, she was drawing a paycheck despite the fact that she’d been fired a month before. Yulia hailed from a small town in Eastern Europe, but could only work menial janitorial jobs because she spoke little Hebrew. Her engineering degree was useless without basic language skills.

After determining that he’s not guilty for her off the books hiring and firing, the Manager tries to let the matter drop, but his widowed boss (Gila Almagor) orders him to identify the body (even though the two have never met) and make arrangements to bury Yulia back in the old country. If the Widow’s threats weren’t humiliating enough, the Manager has to deal with a zealous tabloid reporter (Guri Alfi), known as “The Weasel,” who has defamed the Manager in print and is now tailing him as he tries to get Yulia to a dignified resting place.

If the shame and sorrow of Yulia’s death weren’t enough in Israel, it’s even worse in her unnamed home country. Her family is broken and dysfunctional, and her teenage son (Noah Silver) is a volatile brat. With bad roads and shaky phone lines, the Manager might have an easier time finding a unicorn than locating Yulia’s home village.

Stollman, working from Abraham B. Jehoshua’s novel, The Jerusalem Woman, creates a seemingly endless series of unpredictable obstacles for the Manager to stumble across as he tries to bury a woman he’s never met. As a result, “The Human Resources Manager” can be explosively funny as well as melancholy. The movie feels honest, even as the challenges the Manager faces become more absurd.

Jehoshua didn’t name any of the characters either, but the film works because Ivanir and his castmates give such vivid performances we don’t even notice the characters are nameless until the closing titles.

As with “The Lemon Tree,” Riklis has a Will Rogers-like affection for every character in his film. The initially cold Manager is wrestling with a messy divorce and frustrating relationship with his daughter (Roni Koren), whose growth he’s been missing. Gradually, his dormant emotions emerge. Similarly, Yulia’s son turns out to have a heart beneath his defiant swagger.

True to form, neither the country nor the town that Yulia left are named, but in Riklis’ hands they are as real as any place on the Globe.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.