The Human Resources Manager
Darkly Subtle Humor

Here’s a test.  Read the following official synopsis, and tell me what kind of a movie you think this is:

The Human Resources Manager of Jerusalem’s largest bakery is in trouble. He is separated from his wife, distanced from his daughter, and stuck in a job he hates. When one of his employees, a foreign worker, is killed in a suicide bombing, the bakery is accused of indifference, and the HR Manager is sent to the victim’s hometown in Romania to make amends. Far from home, on a mission to honor a woman he didn’t even know but has somehow grown to admire, the HR Manager fights to regain his company’s reputation—and possibly his own humanity.

Now… doesn’t that just scream comedy?  No?  Well, it should.  Droll and dark, The Human Resources Manager is like a Martin Scorsese black comedy crossbred with the work of a Romanian minimalist like Cristian Mungiu.  Which is to say: if someone didn’t tell you in advance that you were watching something akin to a comedy, you might possibly miss the fact entirely.

Mark Ivanir in the title role of The Human Resources Manager

Given that this is a joint Israeli-Romanian production, how on Earth did I clue in to comedy?  After all, language barriers can filter out an awful lot of comedic content.  Well, I only started catching the hint that this was a comedy after the HR Manager in question lands in Romania.  Prior to that point, as he investigates the circumstances surrounding the death of the bombing victim, I was pretty much convinced I was watching something like one of those ultra-serious Roy Scheider movies from the late 1970s.  After all, how funny can Jerusalem and suicide bombings be?

But as our hero squabbles with and bribes both Romanian customs officials and the Israeli consul, trades barbs with the “Weasel” of a photographer sent with him, tracks down the dead woman’s son in a decommissioned nuclear reactor, takes refuge from a snowstorm in a military bomb shelter cum hostel, and… well, you get the drift… I started thinking, “Wait!  I’ve seen this before.  In fact, I’ve lived this before!”

The film is set during the early winter of 2002—precisely the same season and year that I also made a visit to the same part of Romania.  I saw the same post-Soviet cultural confusion and malaise that gripped the country, the same ironic desperation in the eyes of dirt-poor and shell-shocked citizens who had little and expected less.  And there was a certain dark humor to it all.  The country had applied to enter the EU at that point, but social and economic reforms were slow in coming in the wake of complete infrastructure breakdowns.  Yes, bribes were still in—but nobody really felt like much was at stake.  Things just got slower if you resisted, that’s all.  Clerks at four-star hotels the quality of a Motel 6 could just shrug off the inconsistency; after all, where else were you going to find hot and cold running water, and your own private WC?

It’s gallows humor of a sort, but director Eran Riklis wrings every wry smile he can from the situation—given the grimness of the task and setting.  Granted, it’s not Scrubs or Mad About You, or even M*A*S*H… but it doesn’t need to be, and it’s not trying to be that broad.

This is subtle human comedy at close to its best, I think.  I don’t imagine I’d watch it again—but I was very glad I was hooked by the synopsis… even if it was a bait-and-switch!

The Human Resources Manager is unrated.  As I recall, there’s a little four-letter translation, but for the most part this is pretty clean entertainment.  Your teenagers might like it for a change of pace… but this is pretty much strictly for more mature-minded audiences.

Courtesy of the film’s distributor, Greg screened a promotional copy of The Human Resources Manager.