Jellyfish won the Camera d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it’s not hard to see why. The film starts with a choreographed tracking shot that follows characters through the labyrinthine dance floor of an Israeli wedding party, a move that announces the chops of its directors from the get-go. Newcomers Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen are schooled in the art-film formula, from the meta-narrative of Short Cuts to the use of poetic voiceover. Every pop song, facial expression, and camera angle is ostensibly meant to signify something important, but either you’d have to know Tel Aviv to appreciate what Keret and Shira are saying, or—more likely—everything they’re saying has been said before and better.
Like last year’s provocative Drama/Mex, Jellyfish stars a beachside city where everyone seems to find themselves at a crossroads: Batya (Sarah Adler), whose disenchanted life as a wedding photographer becomes catalyzed by a stray girl who follows her around; Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a Filipino nurse working to support her son back home; and Karen (Noa Knoller), the bitchy newlywed who takes out her frustrations on her husband. But Drama/Mex, both local and international to its core, interrogated the roles of its characters within their country and the audience’s perceptions of Mexican cinema; Jellyfish exists in a no man’s land, adrift in vague, waterlogged abstractions on which the filmmakers can hang their characters’ collective baggage.
It’s unclear what Joy’s familiar dilemma as an immigrant has to do with Batya and Karen, two young Israeli women with bourgeois upbringings who encounter nary a minority throughout the film, unless it’s to make their problems look petty by comparison. The titular reference to the poem suggests that these women are just creatures lost in sea—but what the hell does that mean? Jellyfish raises many questions that aren’t worth answering (is the little girl real or not? Who is the poet that miraculously saves Karen’s marriage?), pushing aside characters whose stories we never really hear because they’re buried under the weight of their plot devices.