Jellyfish is an Israeli movie, set in Tel Aviv. It very much has the feel of an indie film. That is, there’s no straightforward storyline with a beginning, middle, and end that ultimately ties up most or all of the loose ends; it’s more an episodic slice of life that allows you to spend a little time with various characters as they live their lives. It is more character-driven than action-driven. It doesn’t spell everything out for you as much as does the typical major Hollywood film (though it’s less inscrutable, lyrical, artsy, or ambiguous than the more extreme indies; it would rank somewhere in the middle of indies in terms of being understandable). Most of the main characters are young adults. There aren’t a lot of fancy special effects, scenes with thousands of extras, or anything that looks like it would cost a fortune.
Jellyfish tells multiple, barely intersecting, stories. The one that feels like the “main” one to me (not that it necessarily really is; it’s entirely possible they’re intended to all be equal and this one just happened to draw me in the most or seem the strongest to me) involves a waitress who works wedding receptions at a banquet hall.
The waitress is a quiet, somewhat morose type who at times seems lost or overwhelmed by life. At the beginning of the movie her boyfriend leaves her. Her shifty landlord takes advantage of her inability to stand up for herself. Her supervisor at work is arrogant and bossy with her and soon enough fires her.
One day a very serious looking little girl walks up to her on the beach and wordlessly attaches herself to her. Indeed, the child never speaks at all. There is no indication of where she came from, where her people are, etc. As the waitress says, “She walked out of the sea.” She seems not particularly scared or unhappy. In fact, she’s rather warm and playful in her strange, uncommunicative way, and she seems quite drawn to the waitress, who reciprocates the attachment.
The waitress takes the mysterious little girl to the police station, but they are able to offer little help. With no evidence to go on as to her identity, they say that this will have to be handled by some social service department that is closed on weekends. They do, reluctantly, offer to let the child hang out in the police station until then, but instead the waitress takes her home with her, and to work with her as well.
Meanwhile, as I say, there are other characters and other stories to follow. One involves a newlywed couple who has to cancel their Caribbean honeymoon when the bride injures her leg at the reception, and ends up instead staying in a local hotel. The bride at first comes across as rather a high maintenance, nagging, hard-to-please type, as she insists they change their room for trivial reasons and such. Over time, though, she seems to settle down, and I found her to be a more sympathetic character than not. It’s actually the husband who becomes a bit cold and seemingly not fully sold on this whole marriage thing. It doesn’t help the situation that he meets a mysterious, somewhat older, more sophisticated type woman writer in the hotel and quickly becomes intrigued by her.
The bride is pretty darn cute; I doubt my attention would be straying so quickly from a honeymoon with her. One can only infer that there’s something else that would explain it going on with them as a couple or at least with the husband that predated their wedding and their stay in this hotel.
We also meet a Filipina who has come to Tel Aviv to work, to earn money to be able to support her young son whom she has temporarily left behind. She is a home health care provider who is only sometimes able to communicate with people since she speaks English but not Hebrew. She clearly feels much discomfort and some guilt over separating from her child. Among her clients are a crotchety old woman who has a flawed relationship with her adult actress daughter.
I’m not sold on the structure of Jellyfish. In effect we’re bouncing back and forth among multiple short stories. Given that this is a shorter than average movie to begin with, it feels like there’s just not enough time to flesh out these stories as well as they deserve. I did find myself caring about these characters to at least some degree, especially the waitress and the little girl, but I have to think more could have been done with them if more time had been allotted to them. The movie just feels a bit thin to me, like deep issues are reasonably well suggested but only minimally explored.
But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. A movie that leaves you wanting more is surely better than one that’s overlong and boring where you wish there had been less of it.
There’s really not a single main character I wouldn’t have wanted to spend more time with and understand better. And even as far as the lesser characters, I particularly liked the wedding photographer, who angers the supervisor by taking shots that allow her to express herself artistically rather than just sticking to all the conventional wedding photos that people expect.
But it is indeed the mystery of the silent little girl that held my interest the best.
I found that whole scene in the police station not very credible, the idea that in a first world country there wouldn’t be any mechanism to take care of an abandoned 5 year old until a certain government office opens on Monday, and that she would be left in the care of the stranger who happened to find her and bring her in.
But the deeper it got into the story, the more one had to wonder if this wasn’t some kind of dream or delusion. There are significant suggestions that in effect the waitress is connecting with her younger self—a happy, innocent child who experiences enough trauma or confusion to go internal and become a lot less communicative.
If she really is just imagining it all, then there’s no particular reason the scene in the police station or other elements of the story have to be realistic. Though if the little girl isn’t real, it casts doubt on a lot of other things we see, since many other characters interact with the waitress when she is with the little girl, like when she brings her to work with her.
Actually the waitress suffers a head injury, which would be a convenient, if clichéd, way to explain a dream sequence, except that the injury occurs later in the movie, after most of her experiences with the little girl (unless the film is out of chronological order, which I suppose is possible).
My guess is there isn’t a clear right answer as to whether the little girl is real or a figment of the imagination of the waitress, but that it’s purposely left open to interpretation. Though if it is intended just one way, I lean toward the view that she’s imaginary.
On the whole, Jellyfish is a solid, intelligent, interesting little movie. It’s not one I would rank very high among those I’ve written about, but I enjoyed it more than not. It strikes me as the kind of promising work of a young director that’s not fully realized, not fully successful, but competent and thought-provoking enough to be worthwhile (and in doing a few minutes of research on IMDB I see that this was indeed Shira Geffen’s first feature film as a director).