The weasel, the corpse and the manager who grew a heart


The Human Resources Manager (M). Director: Eran Riklis. Starring: Mark Ivanir, Gila Almagor, Noah Silver, Guri Alfi, Bogdan E. Stanoevitch. 99 minutes

'Human resources' is a corporate-speak oxymoron, by which employees — each one a unique and inherently dignified human being — are objectified, and judged according to their usefulness to their employer. Human resources managers, ideally, will balance the needs of the company (a collective, money-making entity) with respect and reverence for individual employees' basic human dignity.

On the surface, the dull title The Human Resources Manager promises all the intrigue of a professional training video. But the implicit ethical dimension to the role of human resources managers bears deeper consideration, and indeed is one of the film's central tenets.

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The titular Human Resources Manager (Ivanir) is initially focused more on his company's public image than on human dignity. The company in question is an industrial bakery in Israel, and it is large enough that HRM's relationships with many of those who surround him have become largely depersonalised. The film emphasises this by pointedly not giving any of its characters actual names. Immersed in corporatism, HRM has lost touch with humanity.

HRM's response to a potential public relations disaster is certainly impersonal, despite the upsetting details. A pay slip from the bakery has shown up in the possession of an unidentified migrant woman who was killed in a much publicised terrorist bombing a week ago. A nosy journo, dubbed by HRM as The Weasel (Alfi), has noted the bakery management's apparent failure to notice their employee's absence, and is threatening to run a story about indifference and neglect. HRM slips straight into damage-control mode.

As it happens, the disturbing oversight is not HRM's or even management's fault. But media spin counts for a lot. In order to counteract the pending defamatory story, the bakery offers to transport the dead woman back to her family in Romania and to pay for the funeral. That's not all: it will also send a personal representative, in the form of the reluctant HRM. All involved are no doubt aware of the irony of combatting accusations of inumanity with a publicity stunt dressed as human outreach.

What follows is a tragi-comic road trip. HRM encounters the dead woman's cantankerous Ex-Husband (Stanoevitch) and feral street-kid son, The Boy (Silver), then embarks on an eventful cross-country journey towards the woman's remote home village. He is accompanied by The Weasel, The Boy, and an assortment of others, crammed into the van along with the coffin containing the woman's remains.

In the tradition of road movies, they encounter a variety of incidents, both comic and dramatic. They have a run-in with overzealous law enforcement officers — due to their cadaverous cargo they are determined to be grave robbers — and seek shelter from a blizzard in an underground military complex, where HRM suffers what proves to be a violent but epiphanic bout of food poisoning.

Also, in the tradition of road movies, of greater importance are the stories of human growth and bonding that occur, as HRM comes to better know and understand his fellow travellers. This, in turn, awakens in him a greater sense of the humanity that has been lacking from his corporatised role.

Grudging, mutual respect, if not friendship, develops between HRM and The Weasel. More poignantly, a fatherly bond forms between HRM and The Boy, who has been abused by his own father, and for whom HRM develops an affection that echoes his love for his own neglected daughter. His mission at the behest of his company gradually morphs into a determined quest on behalf of The Boy.

Also, on behalf of The Boy's mother, the dead woman: in the film's early stages HRM was not even able to identify her by sight; by its end, he has come to know that she was a woman who had ridden to Jerusalem on the back of hopes and dreams of a fuller life. In short, she was a human being, and not merely a resource. In this realisation especially, there is a note of redemption. 

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. Follow Tim on Twitter

Topic tags: The Human Resources Manager, Eran Riklis, Mark Ivanir, Gila Almagor, Noah Silver, Guri Alfi



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Existing comments

A 'deflamatory story' would be one that's both inflammatory and defamatory?

David B | 28 April 2011  

Thanks for pointing out the typo David B ... fixed!

Tim Kroenert | 28 April 2011  

A lovely, thoughtful review. As usual.

Paul Redmond | 29 April 2011  

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