What reflects politics on the job more than the Department of Human Resources? In capitalism-driven America, many aim to become the top brass, in a system where the lower ranks envy the upper, that tiny fraction holding the bulk of the wealth. The machinations of the richest will intrigue us, but the HR manager has the distinct viewpoint of employees from the top all the way to the bottom.
In “The Human Resources Manager,” which screened at 2011 Philadelphia Cinefest after appearing at the city’s Israeli Film Festival this year (and now in limited release), a man in the titular role addresses a scandal concerning one in the lower ranks, though reaching the top of his Israeli corporation. A woman involved in a suicide bombing is found with a paycheck on her person from said bread manufacturer. The fact that she was terminated weeks prior relaxes the head boss, until the manager, played by Mark Ivanir, learns that her supervisor-turned-lover had been paying her off the books. The manager has to serve the needs of power-wielding CEO types while serving justice to the lower ranks. The backdrop to his decisions turns the film, directed by Eran Riklis, into something other than a corporate satire, but a statement on a controlled subject’s attempt to manage others. He remains thus controlled until he departs Israel for Romania to deliver the corpse, as a gesture of good faith, and “Manager” turns into a road movie.
It is a challenge for American viewers to separate their own fear of terrorism with the much larger one lurking in the Israeli/Palestine territory. In the film’s earlier narrative movement, this fear lurks behind every conversation, much like fear of the Stasi quietly haunts the runtime of “The Lives of Others.” When vacationing in the Czech Republic in 2005, I met a lovely Israeli couple. When dining with them one evening, I showed interest in learning about their relatively young, unique nation. The husband was objective, showing what seemed like an immunity to their routine struggle. His wife looked at me, shook her head in her delightfully humorous manner, and told me, “You don’t want to know about Israel. You live in America, where it’s safe.”
I can’t help but think back to this couple when considering Israel’s plight. The man was stoic, while his wife showed her urge to abandon the Zionist mission for the furthest safe place, where turning to liberal Judaism may be a reality. When I recently interviewed Muli Segev, a co-director of another film titled “This is Sodom” which also screened at the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia, I couldn’t believe how serious he spoke of the Biblical content he broadly spoofed in his film. “It is history for us,” he reminded me, “kids read it as history in school.” And I realized the foolishness of my next question – if modern, non-literal interpretations of scripture make satire of it more appropriate. We forget the commitment Israelis have to their tradition. The duality of this nation, reflected in the couple I met, sheds light on the politics of a film like “Manager,” which develops through focused problems that grow larger, as they reflect the fears and duty of the nation. “Manager’s” power, like many works of art, lies in its ability to see the larger truth through the minimal, in character, setting, and visual style. It’s a well-made piece we must admire, even if it doesn’t grab us by the heart.