The Cannes Critics Week preem of “Jellyfish” marks another triumph for Israel, strongly represented on the Croisette this year with three films in official sections. Debuting feature co-helmers Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen, a couple already separately acclaimed as fiction writers, make a fluid transition to film with this tightly constructed, cleverly stylized, serio-comic ensemble piece. Highly cinematic, with a mood of existential loneliness leavened by magical whimsy, its different story strands share themes including the need for affection and the struggle to communicate. Endearing pic should wash ashore at many festivals, with niche distribution and broadcast likely in some markets.
A pre-credits sequence epitomizes the pic’s thematics and witty visual style. Young waitress Batya (Sarah Adler) and her boyfriend stand framed in front of a blue background that appears to be the sea. He’s leaving her and asks, “Don’t you want to say something to me — like stay?” She’s unable to respond until after he’s departed — when it’s revealed the background is not what it seemed.
Unspooling in a Tel Aviv where the sea constitutes a place of refuge and jellyfish serve as a metaphor for peo-ple whose destinies are beyond their control, the pic juggles four main characters and several supporting ones. Their paths cross, but not all interact with one another.
Batya works for a catering company specializing in weddings, and rents an apartment with a leaky ceiling. Her antagonistic parents are divorced and communicate with her mainly by messages on the answering machine. One day at the beach, she observes a little girl (Nikol Leidman) emerging from the water clad only in panties and a candy-striped inner tube. The sad-eyed child, who doesn’t speak, attaches herself to Batya and ultimately helps her discover her own forgotten past.
Batya is one of the servers at a bash celebrating the nuptials of Keren (Noa Knoller) and Michael (Gera Sandler). Plans for their Caribbean honeymoon are pre-empted when the beautiful bride breaks a leg climbing out of a locked toilet.
Non-Hebrew-speaking Filipino domestic worker Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre) attends Michael and Keren’s re-ception with one of her employers. She works for an agency that assigns her to aid the querulous elderly, who frequently make snide comments she can’t understand. Hurried conversations by public telephone provide the main means of communication with her young son in the Philippines. She’s beset by guilt for not being with him, and clearly conscious of the irony that she’s being paid to provide care for other people’s parents while someone else looks after her child.
Malka (Zaharira Harifai), one of Joy’s crabby clients, continually criticizes her self-centered actress daughter (who is starring in a hilarious experimental “Hamlet”). Malka’s unexpected comforting of Joy reps the possibility of her reaching out compassionately to her own offspring.
Among the many visual pleasures of the blue-toned, water-filled pic are short, beautifully composed tableau moments: Keren’s wedding dress heaped on the bathroom floor resembling a jellyfish; Michael carrying Keren, her leg in a cast; the little girl in Batya’s apartment, open-mouthed under the leak; and Batya, for once nicely dressed, wilting in the sun as her bouquet of sunflowers falls to bits.
Other tech credits are top notch and support the pic’s unique ambience. The sharp dialogue offers many comic moments.