Like a cork borne along by the tide, Jellyfish floats toward you for 78 minutes, then goes on its bleakly merry way. Why it's called Jellyfish I'm not quite sure, since it doesn't have much of a sting. But it's surprisingly buoyant for a movie about the lost connections between parents and children, husbands and wives, who we'd like to be and who we turned out to be. Did I mention that it's an Israeli film? Most of the Israeli films that make it over here are, in one way or another, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jellyfish, which is set in Tel Aviv, where Zohan was recently seen frolicking on the beach, doesn't even mention the conflict. In fact, if you made a few minor adjustments, it could be set anywhere - Madison, for instance.
It opens at a wedding reception, where Batya (Sarah Adler), our entry point into the movie, is working as a server. Batya is one of those poor little lost girls who, though officially grown up now, are still lost. Her mother's a nationally prominent fund-raiser for needy charities who's too busy saving the world to save her own daughter. And so Batya drifts. ("Either wear nail polish or not, okay?" the catering manager says to her.) But then, one bright and gloomy day, while watching the waves roll in, she's approached by a little lost girl who seems to have emerged, nymph-like, from the sea - the same sea, it turns out, that Batya was swimming in, many years ago, while her parents, from their respective beach towels, maneuvered toward divorce.
That's Batya. There's also Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a Filipino woman forced to work as an elder-care provider when she'd prefer to be working as a youth-care provider for her own 5-year-old son, back in the Philippines. And there's Keren (Noa Knoller) and Michael (Gena Sandler), the newlyweds, who, because Keren broke her foot trying to escape from a locked bathroom stall, are forced to spend their honeymoon in a Tel Aviv hotel that's a far cry from the Caribbean. Hmm, that word again, "forced." The characters in Jellyfish don't seem to have a great deal of control over their lives. They're unable to steer things in a particular direction. Instead, they just bob along, counting on the tide to take them somewhere they'd like to go.
And wouldn't you know it, the tide more or less does, although where they wind up isn't exactly where they thought they'd like to go. The filmmakers - Shira Geffen and Etgar Kent, a husband-and-wife team well known in Israeli literary circles - have a nice feeling for the way our lives can run in parallel for a while, then veer off in their own directions. And they have something important to say about how families don't always give us the nurturance we need, that we have to therefore take it wherever we can get it. When Joy gets placed with a woman who treats her own daughter like dirt, it appears to be a match made in hell. But you never know where a hug will come from, a lifejacket flung from a boat you didn't even know was there.
Believe it nor not, Jellyfish is basically a comedy, with magic-realist touches that are more cosmic than comic. But the magic-realist touches are beautifully handled - so simple they barely register as anything out of the ordinary. When Batya takes the little girl, with a flotation device still wrapped around her waist, to the local police station, you're surprised that anyone else can see her. Isn't she a figment of Batya's imagination, her inner child finally washed up on shore? Yes and no, plus maybe. Jellyfish doesn't try to nail everything down. It doesn't even try to direct the flow, at least it doesn't seem to be trying. Only later - on the way home, perhaps - do we realize that everything did happen for a reason after all. Seemed to, anyway.