A movie title infused with an irony that encapsulates this both bittersweet and darkly laced satire, The Human Resources Manager is, if nothing else, a murky odyssey into euphemisms that tend to define the universal workplace. And where charitable gestures are more often than not intended to protect the bosses, rather than the workers. In other words, the sort of dubious paternalistic spin currently sighted at mass pressure points from Wisconsin to Egypt, that goes something like, ‘this hurts me more than it hurts you.’
The setting of the simultaneously outlandish and melancholy tale is Israel, where the unnamed despondent Jerusalem industrial bakery HR manager (Mark Ivanir) is summoned to explain the plant’s long unrecorded death in a suicide bomb explosion, of Yulia, one of their unseen immigrant workers. The young Romanian woman, not even known to the manager, was as anonymous and faceless in death as in life as a result of a combination of workplace indifference and casual dehumanization, along with a married supervisor’s determination to conceal a secret affair with her.
The Manager is reluctantly pressured into returning with her remains to desolate, post-communist rural Romania for burial, as a meddling reporter stalks him there in search of an extended scandalous tabloid scoop. And what plays out along the way, is a larger story and sobering revelation probing humanity’s callousness to one another, especially when it comes to class differences.
Adapted by screenwriter Noah Stollman from the novel by Abraham B. Yehoshua, The Human Resources Manager is directed by Eran Riklis. Whose previous inspiring reality based dramatic film Lemon Tree, touched on the life of yet another forgotten woman: A Palestinian widow (Hiam Abbass) who stands up to the Israeli military, to defy that country’s deplorable official home invasion policy against her people.
Here is my exclusive interview with the filmmaker, Eran Riklis:
Question: Why did you become interested in directing The Human Resources Manager?
Eran Riklis: After reading the book by Yehosua, I felt that the story and characters could be mine and thus could be part of my film. And after The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree, I felt that I want to break away a bit from the ‘political’ environment. And yet I wanted to stay relevant and open to subjects and issues that are at once very Israeli, and yet very universal. Human Resources gave all that.
Question: Talk about your creative relationship with the screenwriter that shaped this film.
Eran Riklis: When I get involved with writers, I try to give them all the experience and vision that I have as a director and as a writer. Noah and I saw eye to eye throughout the writing process, and I think our principal was that we respect the book and its themes. But we are also totally free to venture into new territories, add and delete as we need, and as the film requires.
Question: How is this story a reflection of the actual situation of foreign workers in Israel?
Eran Riklis: I think that emotionally, it reflects what it is to be a stranger in the land. It’s not really a film about foreign workers in Israel or anywhere else in the world. But it does deal with the loneliness, the vulnerability, the sense of leaving behind you a whole world that is yours. And dealing with a new, sometimes hostile, sometimes strange new world.
Question: Does the film touch in any way on your own personal experiences and observations, or is it in part based on your multinational life experiences?
Eran Riklis: I embarked on a mission, a voyage, just like the HR Manager does, and I was with him there all the way. His story became mine and my story became his. But I am also the journalist, the boy, the widow, the consul…Which means that in every film I make, I try to become my characters, give them their own space and yet breath my own experiences into them. It’s a wonderful process.
Question: How is this an Israeli film in terms of sensibility and daily social and political life, and a film that could not have been made about any other country?
Eran Riklis: I think it is both. Which is what I always try to do – be local and at once be universal. I think in fact that the key to a successful film, is not being afraid to deal with issues that belong to your own territory. And yet be sensitive enough to help a global understanding of what you are trying to say.
Question: What were you attempting to convey about immigrant culture?
Eran Riklis: The loneliness and fear. And the never ending attempt to belong, to be part of a community.
Question: And what were you attempting to convey about Romania?
Eran Riklis: Home for Yulia, a mystery for the HR Manager, a new world for us and yet a place that we know.
Question: Would you say there’s a thread that runs through all your work, including Lemon Tree?
Eran Riklis: I think that every frame, every moment in every film is connected to the other films.
Question: How was this production shaped as a collaboration of four countries, including Israel, Romania, France and Germany?
Eran Riklis: It’s a classic co-production. Germany and France have been involved in my previous films already. Romania was new, and a nice surprise.
Question: What is the current situation of the Israeli film industry and filmmaking there today, and in relation also to Palestine?
Eran Riklis: The Israeli industry is one of the most interesting ones to emerge on the global market in recent years. I think that with films like Waltz with Bashir, The Band’s Visit, my films (The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree) and several others, people started noticing that Israel has strong stories, good filmamakers and a solid industry – if a small one.
Budgets have gone up following our ability to get Europe involved with us in co productions. And the Israeli-Palestinian community is certainly a part of this – but of course still has a way to go. As far as the Palestinians from the territories are concerned, I’m afraid we Israelis don’t really have a working relationship with them.
Question: What are your feelings and hopes concerning the current upheaval spreading across the Middle East?
Eran Riklis: I hope it brings a better life to the people, and peace with Israel.
Question: What are you working on next, and what motivates you?
Eran Riklis: I recently completed my new film Playoff, starring Danny Huston. It was shot on location in Germany, and is a moving story about a Holocaust survivor (as a kid) who returns to Germany forty years later to coach their national basketball team. Why? I loved the story, and loved making the film.