In the unsexily titled The Human Resources Manager, the titular bakery employee (Mark Ivanir) finds himself in some uncharacteristic drama when one of his custodial employees, a foreigner named Yulia Petracke, dies in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. Yulia lays in the morgue unidentified for weeks, as no one seemed to notice her absence at work, and a print journalist hungry for a sensational story frames the case against the bakery and its HR manager as a crime of indifference and inhumanity. The manager ends up having to escort Yulia’s body back to Romania, where the return of underemployed expatriates in body bags is apparently one of Israel’s main imports. Yulia is the first one that comes back escorted by the corpse’s employer however. The manager’s attempts to get someone to sign off on the body so he can go back home and try to prove to his estranged wife and daughter he is a good family man are beset by several obstacles (bureaucracy, snowstorms, bratty teenagers, and the usual car breakdown), but nothing will stop him.
It is, at times, hard to say if the film itself is aiming for a political critique of the dynamics of the everydayness of suicide bombings in Israel and the country’s poor treatment of its immigrant population, or if that’s just the way we read anything “Israel.” The scene in which Yulia’s coffin runs through a series of conveyor belt-like structures, very akin to the ones used for the bakery’s bread-making, suggests the film’s interest in a humorous comment on the Israeli production of corpses, but the film’s amusing intentions end up stalling any opportunity for pathos as we grow suspicious that any evoked emotion will soon become a kind of meta-joke. Yet it is precisely this lack of clarity—do we feel for the characters or do we decode their metaphoric-ness at a distance?—that gives The Human Resources Manager its strange singularity. It’s never certain if the protagonist is the manager himself, the deceased woman who struggles to find a place in existence and in death, or the state as a factory of bodies that turn into hot potatoes the minute someone cares for them. The crusade across hostile, bribe-fueled Romania to find a place for an unwanted body makes it clear, by the end, the film’s seriousness about crafting a solemn allegory for the Jewish plight and quest for home.