Deceptively brisk and light on its feet, Jellyfish, winner of the Camera d’Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, is an ultra ambitious film from first time directors Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen that does all it can to keep its most resonant elements below its broad surface. Sweeping through an ensemble of Tel Aviv women, Jellyfish clocks in at a slender 78 minutes. Although it expands its elements and reveals an effective and incredibly moving conclusion, there is not enough time invested in the bulk of the characters to provide the full fledged whallop it could have had. Jellyfish is a good film that modestly stretches for greatness and does not quite get there. Nevertheless, it is a casually inventive melodrama that is sure to be admired, and rightfully so. Even with its seemingly slight veneer, Jellyfish masks its deepest revelations, and reveals them with affirmed precision. These first time directors are talents to be watched in the coming years. Jellyfish is a work that should be seen for its quiet elegance, extreme ambition, and youthful voice. Despite its problems, Jellyfish is dazzling.
A newlywed bride breaks her foot climbing out of a toilet stall, while a waitress, Batya, struggles to keep her life together having just abandoned her longtime boyfriend. At the same time a Filipino woman, who speaks almost no Hebrew, watches over some disgruntled old women, who each have familial issues of their own. The interweaving story structure, so prevalent in many popular films today, may be getting a bit tired, but Jellyfish almost always feels fresh. Besides the lively use of color, each story has a gleeful tone that helps the film bounce through its more cliched scenes. It is this tone that carries Jellyfish and sets up the emotional attachment in the characters that is required for its ending to succeed. With such a brief running time, Jellyfish mystically enraptures the viewer without trying to hard. The film is so finely tuned and well executed that its power seems surprising.
From the young girl who magically appears to Batya on the beach (before quickly disappearing again) to the avant-garde production of Hamlet that bridges a gap in communication while still testing several relationships, Jellyfish keeps it comedic face on, and reveals its emotions with such grace that its emotional excesses achieve great impact. Deeply rooted in its characters, there may not be a lot of grandeur in what Jellyfish tries to do, but it is somehow extremely grand in how its ambitious storytelling ambition comes across as so simple. If there is such a thing as ambitious simplicity, Jellyfish, in my view, is a great example.
Still, while there is clearly plenty of substance revolving underneath the surface of the film, Jellyfish, at the end, does not seem fully realized. This may be rooted in some weaker performances that are overwhelmed by a fascinatingly transfixed performance by Sarah Adler as Batya, or it could just be that the plot’s revelation come tumbling out a little too quickly. It is hard to explain how and why a film just does not feel complete, but that is the case for Jellyfish. The film completes is narrative, and there is nothing else to ask for in terms of plot points, but Jellyfish needs some more depth behind each segment of the story. For a film so concerned with its characters and story, it seems odd that it does not give full weight to each of its infinitely interesting characters. Though a general “less is more” attitude seems applicable, Jellyfish does not have quite enough to have a full payoff.
Based on the novel by co-director and writer Keret, Jellyfish reveals itself slowly over its short running time, much like a novel. Although Jellyfish feels rushed given its large story scope and aesthetic ambitions, it is impossible to say that the film does not work. Jellyfish has its problems, but its enormous successes are able to trump any minor failures it has. From the radiant blue background in the first shot onward, Jellyfish is as distinct and assured a piece of filmmaking as you will see this year. It is these elements that help overcome some of the film’s weaker sections, and make Jellyfish so radiant and full of life. The ship that is the film Jellyfish has its sails, knows where it is going, and gets there. Who can ask for anything more?
by James Hansen