Dir. Etgar Keret, Shira Geffen. Is-Fr. 2007. 78mins.
While it makes for a bleak portrait of dysfunctional families and wretched personal lives, Jellyfish is a surprisingly accessible and easy to watch feature that deservedly won the Critic’s Week prize at Cannes.
A promising debut by a tandem whose work has successfully adorned Israeli television in various shapes and forms and is apparently inspired by American independent cinema, it should appeal to thirtysomething audiences everywhere, who could easily identify and commiserate with the characters on screen and the crises they face.
The team behind it are Etgar Keret, a prolific essayist and short story writer, whose satirical sketches have been much in demand and one of whose scripts, Wristcutters, has already made it to several festivals; and Shira Geffen, with whom he has shared his life and work in recent years. Together they put together three vaguely interconnected episodes, painting life as a vale of frustrations and tears, that each focus on one central female character with more female characters in supporting roles.
Organised in a collection of brief, instantaneous sketches spiced with a touch of surrealism, it may lack some of the irony Keret is often associated with, but nevertheless manages to put across issues that are often painful and distressing, with a light enough touch to make them palatable.
The tone of the piece is firmly trumpeted in the opening two shot scene showing a young couple about to separate, each hesitant but nevertheless determined to go their own way. On the soundtrack, a Hebrew version of Piaf’s La Vie En Rose sarcastically comments on how life can be.
The rest of the film is there to prove this point. Batia (Adler), who has just broken off with her boy friend, lives in a miserable over-priced rented flat, waits tables, feels unloved and distraught and is neglected by her divorced parents (Fabian and Dayan), each of who is trying to compensate for the absence of love in their lives.
One day, a practically naked little girl (Leidman) with huge, luminous eyes walks smiling out of the sea and straight into Batia’s arms. Their bizarre relationship triggers a number of unexplained events and by the end of the film, when the little girl marches back into the sea, the secret behind Batia’s gloom is fully revealed (not that it was that much of a secret before).
In a separate story, the honeymoon of Keren (Knoller) and Michael (Sandler) is disrupted when the bride accidentally locks herself in the toilet and twists her ankle trying to get out. Once her leg is in a plaster, she is taken by her husband to a frustratingly unromantic hotel by the beach.
In a third episode, Joy (de Latorre), a Filipino who doesn’t speak a word of Hebrew, is hired to take care of an older woman (Harifai), whose daughter, Galia (Ben Yaakov), an aspiring actress, can’t find the time nor the patience to deal with her parent.
Having one of her characters admit during the course of the film that she does not like developments may explain Geffen’s tendency to paint states of mind rather then tell stories. Astute rather than deep, her script shows enormous sympathy for certain characters, but fails to flesh out the others beyond a basic outline, with Batia’s episode more elaborate and successful than the other two.
Luckily the co-directors never allows the proceedings to linger for too long in one place and manage to elicit from their cast a number of finely tuned performances, which carry the script through some of its more arid patches.
Sarah Adler, as the painfully introverted Batia, stands out as the most affecting of the lot, but she is not the only one. As predictable as Zaharira Charifai and Ma-nenita de Latorre relationship turns out to be, it is still moving thanks to their performances, Noa Knoller and Gera Sandler are just right as a bride and groom still uncertain of their bonds. A fetching Bruria Albeck, as the enigmatic woman next door, makes the best of her brief appearance.
Les Films du Poisson
Ma-nenita de Latorre
Ilanit Ben Yaakov