ISRAELI CINEMA GOES SWIMMINGLY
by Kevin Bowen
published July 18, 2008
in select theaters
How do the critics love thee? Let us count the
China. Scandinavia. Iran. Mexico. Korea.
All of these places have, in the past two decades,
been termed to have had a "new wave" of emerging filmmaking talent. In truth, the definition now of a "New Wave" is anytime that a group of
elite critics stumble across three high-caliber films from the same country. It's a little like stumbling upon a lost Amazonian tribe. What's
the big deal? They've been there forever. It's you who hasn't.
The up-and-coming wave right now is Israeli, with
the recent appearance of features such as The Band's Visit and Cannes award-winner
Jellyfish. With Jellyfish, from
husband-and-wife writers-turned-directors Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret, the use of the word "wave" is particularly appropriate. Every
character in its interlocking stories is portrayed as figuratively "out to sea." (In fact, the frequency of the sea metaphor will leave your
head swimming.) The characters move through the picture like our gelatinous transoceanic journey-fish, tossed about on the waves and stranded
on the beaches of fate.
The film tethers a number of disparate characters to
its mast. A depressed young waitress with parent issues. A young girl mentally attached to her innertube who walks in from the sea. A Filipina
immigrant caregiver in a death struggle with Hebrew. A finicky bride with a broken foot from a bizarre bathroom escape. A run-ragged groom
taking refuge in strangers and orange juice. A mysterious writer lurking in the hotel room upstairs. An actress who plays a wonderful corpse
and her unsatisfiable mother.
Tel Aviv life here is seen as unmoored. The
characters' existences are bathing in Smuckers. The childhood movies of one person replace their absence for someone else. The poetic
sentiments of one character become the suicide note for another. Even the past is merging with the present.
There are still bruises on my head from where Jellyfish beat the sea imagery
into it. As writers, Geffen and Keret have a tendency to overemphasize symbolism. I think this comes partially from background and perhaps
partially from insecurity, because there is very little else holding together its stories. In some ways, the film feels like three or four
short films stitched amblingly together. It has the good fortune that all but one of these stories are creative and interesting. (There is a
noticeable dip whenever we return to the Filipina's story.)
I'm going out on a limb to say that Geffen and
Keret are strongly film literate, because the movie reminds me of many. From Almodovar, the fascination with female bonding. From
Kieslowski, the multiple stories and the vagaries of fate. From Wong Kar-Wai, the youthful longing, the fractured parental relationships, and
the eruptions of memory. But whereas Wong uses filters and cinematic techniques to create distance and distortion from the past, Geffen and
Keret let the landscape of memory flow in naturally. You don't realize you're in a surreal blend of past, present and possibly future until
it's impossible to avoid the conclusion. That, to me, is what makes Jellyfish unique and
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com
[editor’s note: Jellyfish has already finished its runs in
New York and Los Angeles and is currently making its way around the nation]