The powerful statements of “The Syrian Bride” and “Lemon Tree” are replaced by artificial feel-good warmth and tired caricature in Eran Riklis’ “The Human Resources Manager.” A considerable letdown from his previous two pics, this bland quest drama follows an HR head discovering his humanity when forced to accompany the body of a suicide-bomb victim back to her home country. Though issues of belonging and homeland tenuously tie the film to Riklis’ earlier efforts, the parallels are stretched, while the stereotypes and tugs for sympathy will play best on smallscreens.
Before then, the film is likely to unspool at scores of Jewish fests, where the movie’s uncomplicated emotions will appeal to conservative viewers who might have been uncomfortable with the challenging issues Riklis raised earlier. Marketing campaigns aimed at older auds in the pic’s home countries could generate modest B.O., but arthouses are not the targeted demographic and Stateside commercial play will be limited.
A foreign worker is killed in a bombing in Jerusalem, and a gadfly journalist (Guri Alfi) creates a scandal after the unclaimed body lies in the morgue for a week. The woman, Yulia (Galina Ozerner), had worked for the city’s largest bakery, but a complicated blame game reveals she’d been laid off weeks earlier yet secretly kept on the payroll by an admiring superior. To counter the notion of a big company allowing an employee to rot in the morgue, the bakery owner, known as “the Widow” (Gila Almagor), instructs her human resources manager (Mark Ivanir) to accompany the body back to Yulia’s native land.
Noah Stollman’s script (adapted from a novel by A.B. Yehoshua) does a haphazard job of implying the widow and the HR guy are involved in more than mere bread-making; she’s presented as a sort of James Bondian M figure, and his recent unspecified change of departments hints at a secret-service past. However, the only certainty is that his mission must be swift if he’s to return home in time to accompany his daughter (Roni Koren) on a class field trip.
Trailed by the pesky reporter, Mr. HR flies to Romania (oddly, the country is unspecified, much as characters remain unnamed), where he’s met by a bubbly consul (Rozina Cambos) and a corrupt or simply rigid bureaucracy. Yulia’s son (Noah Silver) is found living in a set designer’s idea of squalor with a bunch of other semi-feral teens, but as a minor, he can’t sign release papers. So everyone treks to a village 600 miles away to get a signature from Yulia’s mother (Irina Petrescu) and finally inter the body in her hometown.
The ensuing picaresque adventures rely heavily on patronizing Eastern European stereotypes; not only do these characters fail the believability test, but their situations and the humor designed to compensate for their lack of intelligence are too mild-mannered to hold interest. Attempts at addressing serious subjects, from terrorist attacks to post-Soviet poverty to what homeland means in this diasporic age, feel like window-dressing.
Ivanir tries valiantly to create a three-dimensional figure from the character’s routine trajectory from cold-hearted tough guy to warm father figure, but the talented actor is clutching at straws. Romanian speakers will scratch their heads wondering how, and why, their language is being butchered by supposedly native speakers. Artificial lighting renders the visuals attractive but overly scrubbed, a pity considering lenser Rainer Klausmann’s excellent credentials, including previous work with Riklis, Fatih Akin and others.