I did an odd thing. After seeing the new award winning Israeli film, “The Human Resources Manager”, I went to buy the novel on which it is based, A. B. Yehushua’s “A Woman Of Jerusalem”. And then I read the novel.
I also looked at a few reviews of the movie, including the review in the Jerusalem Post, which stated that the movie was very loyal to the book. I beg to differ.
The basic plot outlines are the same. A woman is killed in a suicide bomb blast in a Jerusalem market. No one knows who she is and, apparently, no one cares. That is no one but a swarmy reporter for a free weekly tabloid, who learns that among the things in her pocket was a pay stub from a large bakery.
The reporter writes an article accusing the bakery of failing to care for or look after its workers. The publication of the article is viewed by the elderly owner of the bakery as a major embarrassment, and he asks his human resources manager to look into the matter…..immediately.
The manager learns that the woman was a Christian from Europe whose Jewish lover, with whom she had come to Jerusalem, decided to return, and whose ex-husband demanded that their son be sent home as well. There was something special about this woman, who intrigued everyone she met, including the night bakery supervisor, a married man who knew that his infatuation with her was bound to cause him problems at home. So he suggested she find another job, but he did not tell HR, who kept paying her. Hence the pay stub, and thus no one at work missed her.
The owner decides that her body should be returned to her home country, and that the manager, along with the reporter and a photographer, should go along. The ex-husband is unfriendly, the son is disturbed and insists that his grandmother be at the funeral. She lives in a remote village. Communication is poor. It is the depths of winter. But they decide to take the body to the grandmother’s town to be buried. The trip becomes quite an adventure with a surprise awaiting them at the end of the trail.
It’s a short book, about 230 pages. The prose is the opposite of flowery. It is written in crisp, clear sentences, one following the other. It straddles the line between realism and fantasy. The manager, the central character of the book, is sort of a lost soul. He is divorced and wished he could spend more time with his daughter. He does not like his job. He disagrees with his both as to how the situation should be handled. Things don’t work out the way he hopes. But he is not a dope.
On the other hand, the manager in the movie is a complete schlimazel, someone who is well meaning but whose every move turns out opposite to his intention, no matter how hard he tries to get things right. Mostly, he winds up in situations which, as the old saying goes, would be funny, if they were not so sad. Sometimes, they are funny anyway.
There are other differences as well. In the film, the coffin is taken to Romania. In the book, the location is not mentioned although the dust jacket says it is somewhere in the former USSR. In the movie, the manager is not divorced, but in a rocky marriage heading in that direction. The bakery owner in the movie is female. The journey with the coffin takes up only about twenty per cent of the book. It provides the basic story line for the film. The victim’s son in the book is hardly defined; he is just sort of there. In the movie, he is a difficult child but quite bright; he pretends to understand nothing, while in fact he understands everyone.
In the book, it is clear that the manager has also fallen for the victim, someone he has not met. It is part of her mysterious charm. This was not clear to me in the film at all. In the film, the manager is just following his boss’s orders, making one gaffe after another.
It would be interesting to know why the choices were made in the movie to put in more ‘humor’ and change the tone. The book and the movie are both highly regarded. But the movie does not stick close to the book – it just keeps the overall plot line. There must be a back story here. One I would like to know.