LYT vs. AFI Fest 2010: Of Human and Mechanical RESOURCES

If I may wax Wellsian for a minute (Jeffrey, not Orson), the lack of blogging facilities at AFI Fest makes things a tad...challenging. I remember the first AFI Fest I went to full-time, in 2002...they had public-use computers all over the place. At this fest, they have four communal laptops, most of which, last I checked, were unusable due to having their batteries drained. There is wi-fi at the Roosevelt hotel, but it requires a credit card or a pass code. And frankly, I’m not bringing my laptop, because I mostly get to and from the festival by bus, subway, or Dash (the Dash is the cheapest means, but it rarely shows up every 30 minutes as advertised). I’m not easily scared by the streets of Hollywood at night, but that’s partly because I’m rarely carrying something of value like a LAPTOP.

The Human Resources Manager

In the press room upstairs, I used what I thought was a communal computer for about 30 minutes – all while volunteers talked loudly at each other across the room – only to find out, that no, I’d been using someone’s personal one. In fairness, though: who leaves a laptop unattended for half an hour?

All of which is to explain why the blogging on my part is more sporadic than I’d like; also, my minimum-wage job (one of three paid gigs I have at present, because film criticking payeth not a living wage) decided to hold a mandatory all-staff meeting snack-dab in the middle of the fest. Sing for my supper, and all that.

And now, let us finally get around to the actual first movie I saw at the festival, THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER. It may be the only time in my life I will watch an undistributed Israeli/Romanian film in a sold-out theater with a cheering crowd. That may have added to my enjoyment, but regardless, it was a highly likable movie.

Yes, I know to the casual viewer that “Israeli/Romanian” may sound scary. Don’t back down.

There’s probably no way a movie called THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER could be anything but a comedy about bullshit bureaucracy, but it isn’t quite in the way you expect. Our hero of sorts, the manager of the title, works at a bakery, under the mercurial eye of a domineering, chain-smoking woman known only as “The Widow.” Upon being told that a damaging story about their company is going to be published in the newspaper shortly, The Widow assigns the manager the task of composing a response, as a means of damage control.

We are not initially told what the substance of the issue is, though in due time it is revealed that a woman named Yulia has been killed in a sucide bombing attack, and a paycheck from the bakery was found on her person...yet she is not currently on the company payroll. Notably -- though I didn’t catch this till the end credits rolled -- Yulia is the only person in the movie ever mentioned by name; the others are all billed generically, by profession. Turns out Yulia was having an affair with her supervisor, who fired her when his wife found out, but secretly kept her on the payroll.

The manager goes to the morgue to identify the body, but gets cold feet about looking at a corpse, and decides instead that taking her keys and seeing if they fit the door to her house will be sufficient. Meanwhile, the obnoxious reporter who’s about to write the damning story is fingering the manager as a careless dick who’s trying to retroactively fire the dead girl to absolve himself. Things get more complicate when the Widow has a change of heart, decides to take full responsibility, and pay for the body to go back to Yulia’s native Romania for a funeral paid by the bakery.

That’s just the set-up for the main story, a comedy of errors as Romania requires the visitors to jump through increasingly absurd administrative hoops just to bury a coffin. There’s a very strong sense of the old Soviet bureaucratic mindset, now doubly useless as there isn’t any functioning bureaucracy to match it any more. Much of the story from here involves a bizarre road trip with the manager, the obnoxious reporter, Yulia’s delinquent son, and the husband of the Israeli consul in Romania.

Their task is just a tiny bit more difficult than getting decent computer access at AFI Fest. L.O.L.

At one point, the reporter refers to the latest frustrating turn of events as “not funny funny. Depressing funny.” THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER is both, which is a feat almost as challenging as burying a body in Romania appears to be. It could be surprisingly commercial on the art-house circuit, with its vague echoes of both BRAZIL and OFFICE SPACE. Director Eran Riklis already gained many favorable notices with THE SYRIAN BRIDE and THE LEMON TREE, and this should only increase them exponentially.

More later...

Luke Y. Thompson is an actor, writer, and film critic living in Hollywood.

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