Shira Geffen talks about how humour plays apart in her surreal tale of female identity.

Shira Geffen’s Self Made is witty, surreal take on female identity and existence in modern-day Israel and Palestine, but the director did not realise she had made a comedy until the critics guffawed with laughter during the Critics’ Week screenings in Cannes earlier this year.

“I’d worked on it for years and just didn’t feel the fun part,” she says. “It’s hard for me to watch it and be objective. So when I went to Cannes and showed it for the first time, I was very happy. The humour is built in; it’s ironic, not jokes. The strongest way to say something is by making people laugh as people accept it that way.”

Self Made is her second directorial outing following Camera d’Or winner Jellyfish, which she made with husband Etgar Keret in 2007.

It is a witty, fantastical tale about the flimsy grasp we have on our own identities. It tells the story of two women, one an Israeli artist, played by Jellyfish star Sarah Adler, the other a Palestinian factory worker, played by Samira Saraya, the rising star of an Arab TV series. The women begin living each other’s lives on opposite sides of the border, and in very different socio-economic circumstances, after a mix-up at a checkpoint — but no-one around them notices.

As the director and her family are famous in Israel — Geffen’s father is a TV and film composer and poet, and her brother is a rock star — she was curious to explore the difference between a person’s public persona and their real one. “What interests me is the difference between the person people think you are and who you really are, and how society uses you to be who it wants you to be,” she says.

The other major influence on Geffen was her time as part of a group called Women’s Watch who silently observe the border crossings between Israel and Palestine, bearing witness to everything that happens. The pivotal moment in the film takes place at a border checkpoint, a location that crystallises the social and political tensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. “I was there for a very short time but it was a very strong experience,” she says.