Jellyfish (2008)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Ensemble Film, Slice of Life  |   Release Date - Apr 4, 2008 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 78 min.  |   Countries - France, Israel  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mark Deming

At its heart, Jellyfish is a film about love, but romance barely enters into the picture. Instead, Jellyfish concerns itself with the way people can lift each other up and drag each other down, sometimes without actually trying -- husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, children, even strangers -- and how complex the business of caring for someone else can be, no matter how simple it all seems on the surface. Filmmakers Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen juggle several stories at once in this movie -- a young woman is put in charge of a lost child who then goes missing, a freshly married couple sets off for the honeymoon from hell after she breaks her leg at their wedding reception, a busy actress hires a woman to take care of her cranky, aging mother -- but rather that tie all the narrative elements together, they allow the various stories to each follow their own course, and they instead cohere emotionally, in a casual but quietly decisive manner that strengthens and intensifies the broad range of emotions on display.

Jellyfish starts out light and witty, and in its early reels it feels more like a comedy than anything else, especially during the wedding reception sequence, with many questionable nuptial fashion choices on display and plenty of awkward familial interaction. But by the midway point, the film has started to evolve into something with a great deal more dramatic weight, and thankfully Keret and Geffen guide the film with grace and skill through its tricky emotional journey, and the cast is capable of playing the film's humor just as accurately as the heavier stuff in the final reels. Sarah Adler is a charming cipher as Batya, the catering server who becomes our guide to much of the story, and Gera Sandler and Noa Knoller offer a funny but telling portrait of a young married couple whose first days together are not going as they had planned. While Zaharira Harifai and Ma-nenita De Latorre have largely thankless roles as an ailing and ill-tempered elderly woman and the Philippine immigrant hired to look after her, both are able to bring a welcome depth to characters that could easily have been clichés (especially De Latorre, who skillfully underplays her telephone conversations with her young son at home, not overstating emotions that are expressed with measured clarity).

Antoine Heberle's camerawork gives the images an unobtrusive beauty that doesn't overwhelm the workaday settings, and at a speedy 78 minutes, Keret and Geffen keep their tale short, sweet and to the point, knowing not to wear out their welcome. (Their sure hand is all the more impressive when you consider that this is only Keret's second directorial credit, and Geffen's first.) Jellyfish doesn't tell us a great deal that's new about the hard work of loving someone else, but this fable is constructed with enough skill and compassion that it manages to appeal to the eye, the heart, and the mind with equal resonance, and it's a modest triumph for two rising Israel filmmakers.