Friday, January 14, 2011

NYJFF: Eran Riklis' HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER--Israel's shot for BFLF Oscar

When TrustMovies interviewed Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis upon the NYC theatrical opening of his last film, Lemon Tree, in April of 2009 (that interview is here), the writer/director (shown below) told us about his next project, a film he was to direct based on a screenplay he had recently read and loved called The Mission of the Human Resources Manager (from the novel of the same name). That filmed version, complete with an appropriately shortened title, is now making its New York debut as part of this year's New York Jewish Film Festival (which will host three screenings in the4 coming week). It has also been picked by the distributor Film Movement, and will have a theatrical debut soon, before going onto DVD release. This is good news all around because Riklis' new film is, I think, his best so far: serious, smart, occasionally funny, thought-provoking and finally profoundly moving. That it is Israel's selection to represent that county is our Best Foreign Language Film "Oscar" derby was a wise choice.

THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER begins in media res as the titlular character at a large Israeli industrial-strength bakery is given the assignment to head off a very bad newspaper article about that bakery and one of the foreign workers in its employ. (Evidently, in Israel, human resources sometimes does double duty as PR flack.) Viewers are promptly put smack in the middle of this manager's life, as he scrambles first to learn what exactly has transpired, and then find out why and how before he can begin to do anything about it. A journalist ready to pounce on bad corporate behavior has his recorder, camera and steel-trap mind turned on, to better crucify the company and its flack.

Playing the manager, in a very private performance that only slowly lets the humanity of the character leak into view, Mark Ivanir (above, right, last seen here playing Jesse Eisenberg's dad in Holy Rollers) is terrific -- quick on his feet and with his brain, but coming up against things he finds enormously difficult to handle. The employee in question was a woman (above, left), and women are key in this movie: from the manager's boss, with whom he may have (or have had) more than a working relationship, to his estranged wife and the daughter he loves so much and who mirrors somewhat that foreign employee, to whom he becomes a kind of after-the-fact father. Even the employee's own mother (below, shown in foreground, right) rattles this movie's cage rather fiercely.

This is Israel, so yes, terrorism rears its head by starting off the action. Yet like so much else in the film, it acts only obliquely in this tale that is about "home" and "borders." The biggest theme here is probably "family," but in a much broader sense than our own nuclear version: the family of Jewish culture/religion, of the workplace and of the world at large.

In the course of the movie we travel with the manager from his own country to another, and what we see and learn is heartbreaking and enriching. By the end of this relatively short film (103 minutes), our hero has changed in a surprisingly believable manner. And if we, being spectators rather than participants, have not quite done the same, the film has nonetheless set us to considering a world beyond our own in a way that we would not have imagined when we first sat down in our seat to watch.

I'll have more to say when The Human Resources Manager makes its theatrical debut.  Right now you can see it at the Walter Reade on Saturday, January 15, at 6:30 and again on Thursday, January 20, at 3:30 and 8:30. If you can't make these screenings, you 'll have the chance again, as the film will definitely be opening later this year. I suspect our Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will look highly upon Mr. Riklis' movie.

All photos are from the film itself, except that of Mr. Riklis, top,
which was found on the web, credited to Jesús Uriarte.

1 comment:

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