Wed 2 Jan 2013
The Hebrew name of the film is a little longer than the one chosen by the distributors for the English version. It reads ‘The Mission of the Human Resources Manager’ and actually the word used is ‘shlihut’ which has a wider significance – it means not only mission, but also the acts of performing an important duty, or of being a messenger for important news. The news in this case are about a death, but the film touches only marginally the reasons and the absurdity of that death, and deals more about how the people who remained in life cope with the disappearance and how this impacts their lives – including the one of the messenger.
Based on a novel of AB Yehoshua the film tells the story of the aftermath of a terror attack, one of these crazy suicidal acts that took place during the second intifada about a decade ago. One of the victims of the attack is identified quite lately as a Romanian woman working a manual job in a bakery in the town. A beautiful woman whose face we know only from a photo and later from a short film made on a phone, whose body nobody came to claim or identify because she was one of the thousand of foreign workers who come to Israel and perform hard and low paid works nobody else wants to do in order to support their families back home. The duty to take the coffin with the body home to Romania, and try to compensate the family there falls on the manager of the human resources (the absurdity of the terminology is so well exposed by this film), a man who has problems of his own – solidly acted by Mark Ivanir, an actor I did not notice until now – he works more for the TV and games industry in the US, here he gets an opportunity to make a serious role in an Israeli film, and does it fine. What results is a trip in unknown territory for the Jerusalemite clerk and the journalist accompanying him (Guri Alfi, better known here as a stand-up comedian), a clash not only of two different cultures and but also of different approaches to life and death.
The film is not bad, but it’s a missed opportunity. Made in 2010, a year when both the Romanian and Israeli films industry were riding high on waves of success, it could have brought together some of the best in the two schools of cinematography – the Israeli dramatic school of political cinema which after decades of avoiding the tough questions raised by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict succeeded in a few film that take a sharp and uncompromising look at the issues and the Romanian minimalist realism which looks back to the Communist era and the transition that followed, and also to the contemporary chaotic situation in Romania not only with anger, but also with humor and especially with human understanding. Amazingly, director Eran Riklis‘ style and place in the Israeli cinema fits rather well the Romanian cinema style. The problem lies in the folklorist approach taken in dealing with the Romanian reality. If the Israeli team would have taken a local director as consultant, they could have maybe avoided some of the stereotypes of the script. I should say that the Romanian actors do their best to fill in the holes of the story on this respect, but this is not always enough. Even so, it’s a pleasure to see great actors like Irina Petrescu (a Romanian legend) or Gila Almagor who can be considered as her Israeli counterpart on the same cast (although they never meet on screen). And more than all, this is the last and final role in the career of Rozina Cambos. Despite its flaws Riklis’ film has enough good parts to make for an interesting viewing.