The Human Resources Manager
by Adam Mohrbacher
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Road movies are a tricky business. There are few things in life that are quite as invigorating as uprooting yourself from the common and banal circumstances of “everyday” life, making a trek out to unexplored territory, and, if you’re lucky, perhaps learning a thing or two about yourself in the process. Unfortunately, the process of converting this experience to a cinematic format is rarely successful. “The Human Resources Manager,” (Israel’s inexplicable submission to the Oscars for the best foreign language film category), is no exception to this trend, and fails not only in transcending the clichés that are intrinsic to the genre, but also in developing characters and a story that any rational audience can care about.
The story contained in this dry and strangely emotionless film focuses on the Human Resources Manager of the largest bakery in Jerusalem. After one of the bakery’s employees, a foreign worker, is killed by a suicide bomber, the bakery is accused of being inhumane and indifferent to the plight of its workers. In order to make amends, the owner of the bakery decides that the Human Resources Manager must transition into a sort of disgruntled altruist, and escort the body of the slain worker to her hometown in Romania. During the course of the journey our reluctant hero is joined by cast of colorful characters, and, as expected, the road becomes a catalyst for growth and redemption.
While the film isn’t by any means a complete loss, and the harsh and unforgiving landscapes of Eastern Europe are beautifully captured, the central problem of the film, (which systematically destroys any chance of the viewer really giving a hoot), is the fact that we’ve seen all this before. What’s worse, the character of the Human Resources Manager is so utterly placid and dull, that it is essentially impossible to engage with any of the equally tired problems, (marital strife, strained relationship with his child), that the film burdens him with. In the scenes between the Manager and his child, who petulantly and continually whines about how he is essentially absent in her life, I found myself vehemently wishing to turn off the film and switch to “Jingle all the Way,” (a much more enjoyable glimpse at the dynamic between a child and their under-achieving parent).
With a generally uninvolving central character, and a story that throws one annoying “oddball” character after another down your throat, “The Human Resources Manager” never comes close to proving its worth as a film. Certain atmospheric moments, (such as where the characters move through a disintegrating industrial area and young “ragamuffins” dart in and out of abandoned buildings), are undercut by the emotional vapidness of the story. While this film could serve as a interesting travelogue of various Eastern European locations, we never get something that successfully gels, or makes any sort of coherent comment on anything, and is riddled with cliches that make you start yawning far to quickly, (the titular Manager doesn’t smoke initially, yet, lo and behold, he will certainly take a puff before the story concludes). Because of the recycled plot and tired characters that compose the core of “The Human Resources Manager” it is only appropriate that I conclude this review with an appropriate cliche of my own, and instruct that this particular cinematic road is best left untravelled.
Adam Mohrbacher is a freelance film critic living in Chicago.
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