" I’m no bastard. I’m Bruce Lee. "
— Jason Scott Lee, Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story

MRQE Top Critic

Muscle Shoals

Even if the Muscle Shoals sound isn't on your iPod, you'll like seeing where it came from —Marty Mapes (review...)

Etta sings in Muscle Shoals

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The Human Resources Manager is an Israeli/German/French film packed with noble sentiments and wrapped in an excuse for a road movie and colorful sidekick caricatures.

The HR manager (a charismatic Mark Ivanir) at a bakery in Jerusalem is called to the mat in the press. One of his workers, a Romanian immigrant, was killed in a suicide bombing and she sat in the morgue for days, her disappearance never having been reported by her employer.

Predictably colorful characters join the HR manager
Predictably colorful characters join the HR manager

The HR manager was actually in the clear; she had been fired a month before but was still on the payroll at the discretion of a boss who liked her. But the damage in the press has been done, and the corporate boss makes a public promise to set things right. The HR manager is assigned to handle the arrangements as impeccably as possible, all at the expense of the company.

Since the victim was an immigrant from Christian Romania, the task requires lots of travel, with a coffin, with lots of fellow travelers coming and going: the oily reporter who smeared the bakery, the estranged widower, the bitter son, the small-time Israeli consul and her entourage of husband/driver.

After the setup, the movie is very predictable. I knew I’d be in for more clich├ęs than surprises when the HR manager says to a disappointed daughter “tell you what, I’ll come on your field trip next Wednesday. I promise.” And once the first delivery of the coffin goes wrong (the wrong person signed the receipt, necessitating another delivery to another person), you know that it will be one wrong turn after another for 60 minutes straight — any excuse to keep the road-trip-movie going.

In spite of the familiar formula, The Human Resources Manager feels like it doesn’t translate perfectly well. The setting of Jerusalem is fraught with Israeli and Jewish identity, and traveling to a Christian country probably adds a layer of texture, for those who live in that part of the world. The fact that the victim was a Romanian immigrant is probably shorthand that only very local audiences would understand. I often had the feeling that a look, a pause, or a word in the dialogue was supposed to carry more weight than it actually conveyed.

Still, the film’s heart is in the right place, comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable. The title character frequently does the right thing even though he never met the victim, even though he’s missing his family, even though it would be easier to just bury the body somewhere.

If noble sentiments inside a colorful Israeli road movie strike your fancy, track this Toronto festival film down. I prefer to stay home with the family. I promised.