Strangers in the land
Eran Riklis' 'The Human Resources Manager' is one of the finest films on migration, while Eitan Tzur's 'Naomi' is a disappointment.
The year is 2002. A labor migrant from the former Soviet Union dies in a terror attack in Jerusalem. A reporter from a local weekly discovers that she had been fired from a bread bakery a month before, and that a week after the incident her body had still not been identified. He accuses the bakery owner of indifference to her foreign workers.
In an effort to save her reputation, the owner speaks to the head of human resources; it turns out that he never met the former employer and was unaware of her existence before her death. He is sent to accompany the body to the woman's homeland for burial, and the reporter who exposed the bakery goes with him.
At their destination the HR manager and the reporter, with the body of the terror victim, Yulia, in tow, are met by the local consul and her husband, the vice-consul, in order to complete the red tape and enable the burial. The Israelis meet Yulia's ex-husband and her son, neither of whom are qualified to sign her death certificate. The only person who can sign is the grandmother of the deceased, who lives in a remote village. After efforts to contact her by phone fail, a party sets out on a snowy journey: the human resources manager, the journalist, the vice-consul, Yulia's body and her 14-year-old son.
Eran Riklis' "The Human Resources Manager," based on a novel by A.B. Yehoshua, last week won several categories in the 2010 Ophir Awards, including best film, best director and best screenplay. This week it is in competition in the Haifa International Film Festival.
Riklis and screenwriter Noah Stollman's adroit adaptation, an Israel-France-Germany-Romania coproduction, joins a growing list of films by filmmakers in Europe and elsewhere that address the themes of migration and immigration, and in some respects is one of the best.
A broad drama, the film draws in the audience, provides a palpable sense of the searing solitude in Yulia's life story. (She is nearly the only character with a name; the others are "the journalist," "the human resources manager" and the like. ) She belongs nowhere. She was rootless at her job, before being fired and then killed, far from her homeland and her son.
Riklis directed with skill, injecting humor into a serious story and never crossing the line into melodramatic bathos. He is aided by a talented cast. Standouts include Mark Ivanir in the title role and Noah Silver as the son. The film is scheduled for local release in a few weeks.
Eitan Tzur's first feature film, "Naomi," which on Friday kicked off the festival's Israeli films competition, is a bitter disappointment. Some will admire his attempt, with screenwriter Edna Mazia, to make an Israeli psychological thriller, but the result is too flat to win respect.
The first part is virtually identical to "La Femme Infidele," but whereas Claude Chabrol's 1969 film (and Adrian Lyne's 2002 remake, "Unfaithful" ) had emotional and intellectual depth and was superbly directed, Tzur's is a simple flop.
Ilan Ben Natan (Yossi Pollak ), a respected astrophysicist, is consumed by love for his much younger wife, Naomi (Melanie Peres ), who is having an affair. If you are familiar with Chabrol or Lyne films, you know where this is going.
In Tzur's film, because the character of the wife is underdeveloped it seems her husband's actions cannot affect her. The Israeli director adds the character of Ilan's elderly mother (Orna Porat ) to the film, in order to introduce black, even cruel humor, but since the movie does not really take that direction the character seems forced, even strange.
"Naomi" fails to stir any emotion - a movie that addresses the boundaries of love and lust, obsession and even madness, leaves us cold and indifferent to the fate of any of the characters in the emotional whirlwind that unfurls on the screen.