July 25, 2008

Jellyfish: Lost in Translation

By James Vance, Tulsa World, Okla.

Jul. 25--"Jellyfish," with a title directly translated from the original Hebrew "Meduzot," is a sweet and wistful little drama from Israel that offers good performances and a number of intriguing scenes. Unfortunately, like its namesake, it's in serious need of a spine.

Writer Shira Geffen, who co-directed with Etgar Keret, has assembled a set of amiable characters and embroiled them in situations that all hold promise. But none of those story lines leads to anything that's particularly satisfying or surprising, a fault that could have been mitigated more than a little if the creators had just imposed some sense of structure or purpose to it all.

Instead, we get a series of interwoven but unconnected sequences that follow various sets of characters as they mope and kvetch their way through individual, unrelated stories that are all told in the same dispassionate tone.

An attempt is made to give the film a jumping-off point by having all the central characters appear in a wedding scene at the beginning, but it soon becomes clear that none of them actually knows each other. A couple of them manage to bump into each other (in one case, literally) later, but it's more of an annoying contrivance than a successful way to tie the

runaway sequences together.

The material involving the wedding couple, Michael (Gera Sandler) and Keren (Noa Knoller), at first looks to be the stuff of goofy light comedy. Trapped in a toilet stall at her own wedding, Keren is forced to climb over the locked door and manages to break her leg in the process. With their honeymoon trip to the Caribbean out of the question, they try to make do by taking a room near the beach in Tel Aviv.

The fun rapidly evaporates as Keren proves to be a first-class complainer. The first room they try smells bad, the next one has a lousy view, and because the hotel apparently has no elevators, it's up to Michael to carry his disabled bride up and down the stairs as they search for a honeymoon suite that won't make her miserable. The situation has the makings of a dark domestic comedy, but the overall effect is largely unpleasant.

Ma-nenita De Latorre plays Joy, a woman who's left her young son back home in the Philippines while she searches for work in Tel Aviv. A fish out of water, she doesn't speak Hebrew and is struggling to survive on a series of caregiver jobs that never quite work out for her.

She is by far the film's most sympathetic character, but her story is the least developed. For that reason, although she's been given the closest thing to a conventional happy ending that the film has to offer, the material involving her seems frustratingly incomplete.

The central story revolves around Batia (Sarah Adler), a woebegone young woman who's eking out a living as a waitress for a wedding caterer. Her boyfriend has moved out, her apartment is a leaky wreck, and her relationship with her divorced parents has largely degenerated into desultory phone conversations.

Into her messy life comes a little girl who seems to have stepped out of the ocean like a young sea nymph. With no parents in sight and social services shut down for the weekend, Batia takes her in but even that act of charity goes wrong. Batia is more at loose ends than before, but at last is willing to come to terms with unfinished business from her own childhood.

Her search for understanding finally leads to the film's final few moments, a not-quite successful attempt at magic realism that the filmmakers plainly find a lot more poetic than the audience is likely to.

It's a shame, because the cast is talented and the material is winsome. But lacking the minimal jellyfish connective tissue required by even a quasi-anthology like this, the movie as a whole just lies there like the limp wet invertebrate for which it's named.


Stars: Sarah Adler, Noa Knoller

Theater: Circle Cinema

Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes

Rating: Not rated

Note: in Hebrew with English subtitles

Quality: *-- 1/2(on a scale of zero to four stars)

James Vance 581-8372 [email protected]


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