Judge Joel Pearce will never look at the ocean the same way again.
"The reality of Israel is so dense, so charged with violence, with suspicion and ideological intolerance, that the sea has become, for many Israelis, a place of refuge, a place of shelter and comfort."—Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen
When we think of Israel, we think of the violence and hatred that is constantly pulling the country apart. Most of the films from the Middle East have had that violence and tension at their core, even the ones that are meant to be comedic. That's what makes Jellyfish so remarkable—it is a film about Israel that's about the people living ordinary lives. Here, there is no mention of violence, terrorism, or hatred. It's a refreshing view of the country that reminds us that, even in the most troubling parts of the world, people are people.
Facts of the Case
Jellyfish follows the lives of several women in Tel Aviv, each going through her own struggles. Batya (Sarah Adler, Marie Antoinette) is a young woman working as a waitress at weddings. Her own life is lonely and disappointing, until she finds a young girl who walks out of the sea and into her life. Keren (Noa Knoller) is a young bride whose honeymoon plans are ruined when she breaks her leg trying to escape a bathroom stall at the reception. Now, she and her husband are trying to make do in a disappointing seaside hotel. Finally, Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre) is a domestic worker from the Philippines, stuck helping a crotchety old woman and feeling guilty about leaving her son back at home.
Jellyfish is a wonderful film to experience on the strength of the performances alone. The central metaphor of lives adrift at sea is an effective one, especially as all of the women go through experiences that bring dramatic changes to their lives. The nameless young girl brings drama into Batya's life of boredom and routine, and she suddenly discovers that she actually cares about something. For Keren, the experiences at the hotel push her into two realizations: first that life with her new husband will not be as magical as she expected, and that it's going to be much better than that. Joy is adrift in another way as a non-Hebrew speaker in Tel Aviv. She is completely cutoff from the outside world and even unable to communicate with the woman she is supposed to care for.
All three women do a fabulous job of bringing humanity and warmth to their roles. In a film this abstract and full of symbolism, it must be hard to create a truly believable character. Here, amidst strange coincidence, bizarre situations, and unlikely moments, we feel like we are watching real people go about their lives.
The cinematography of Jellyfish also deserves some mention. It is bright and colorful, full of seaside turquoise and blue. Just like the plot, this vision of Tel Aviv is much more natural and pleasant than expected, full of warmth and bright light. It could pass as any of a number of cities. Visually, the film is richly symbolic, using color, objects and framing to show us deep into the lives of these women. For anyone with arthouse sensibilities, Jellyfish offers a unique and beautiful vision of hope from the part of the world where it's least expected.
Zeitgeist has also delivered a fine DVD package. The anamorphic video captures the color and detail of the cinematography perfectly. It isn't as sharp and clean as a major hollywood production, of course, but it's obvious that a lot of care went into mastering this disc. The sound is solid as well, delivered in a perfectly functional (but not dazzling) stereo track. The extras, slightly less exciting, simply consist of an interview with the two filmmakers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much enthusiasm as I have for what Jellyfish accomplishes, it's certainly not for everyone. Like many arthouse films, a bit too much is left up for interpretation, and even the visual richness of the film can't make up for its overall lack of narrative drive. This is a strictly character-driven film, and many North American viewers will be disappointed by its failure to reach some sort of genuine closure. As well, I wonder if these three stories might be too much for one film—we're left wanting more from each one of these characters at the end.
In all, Jellyfish is one of the most enjoyable, refreshing arthouse films I've seen in quite a while. Anyone who cares about the situation in the Middle East, and anyone who likes good character-driven films, will find so much to enjoy in this gentle-spirited drama. It has humor, richly developed characters, and a number of ideas to chew on. Not many films have that much to offer, and it certainly makes up for any of Jellyfish's minor faults.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
• Directors' Interview
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