No one in The Human Resources Manager is credited with a name. That’s partly a running gag, and partly because they’re types, not characters. The one billed as The Human Resources Manager (Mark Ivanir) is definitely a type we’ve seen before: In addition to being a bureaucrat deeply installed in a heartless corporation, he’s a bad father, a bad husband and deeply cynical, wearing the face of a man who long ago learned to live without culpability.
When an employee at his company’s Jerusalem-based bakery winds up the victim of a suicide bombing, the HRM suddenly finds himself confronted with the chance to turn that perpetual frown upside down, to allow his chilly heart to thaw, and several other upbeat cliches. And (spoiler) that he does—in due time. First, the HRM, charged with thwarting impending bad press due to their incompetence at identifying the body, must cart the corpse all the way back to her distant Romanian home. Gradually, he’s joined by other nameless entities: a pesky, muckracking journo known only as Weasel (Guri Alfi), the deceased’s surly son The Boy (Noah Silver), The Grandmother (Irina Petrescu), and the town’s amusingly upbeat Vice Consul (Rosina Kambus).
But despite the ever-widening cast, the crux of the story remains the de-assholification of its central anti-hero. Israeli director Eran Riklis, rebounding slightly after the hoary metaphor that devoured his last film Lemon Tree, seems to realize he’s working from a template, and puts the warm and fuzzies off as long as he can, then mutes the emotions when they arrive. The joke is that as the movie’s emotions get warmer, The Human Resources Manager, partly a road movie, becomes visually bleaker, moving as it does from bright Jerusalem to miserablist Nowhere, Eastern Europe.
Riklis allows the mission’s authenticity to remain ambiguous longer than most would: whether the journey is a sign of good will or simply PR, or some cocktail featuring both, stays up in the air up to the climax, making for good cynical fun that’s only belatedly ruined by the inevitable guilt trip. We know where The Human Resources Manager is going, but are surprised by how long it takes to get there.