Like figures in a Robert Altman film left too long in the sun, and who possibly never had that much going on upstairs to begin with, the characters of Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen's Jellyfish wander about and go missing in their own lives, eventually washing up on the Tel Aviv beach like the silent hulks of dead jellyfish scattered across the sands. There's action and episode here, but little purpose or necessity, just people trying to find their way in a world that baffles them with its willful obtuseness, and more often than not, gets them lost in the process. Everything comes back to the sea.
With the only real connective tissue among them being the grey and somewhat mournful Mediterranean and a certain cluelessness about their lives, the three women whose stories constitute Jellyfish seem specialists in not getting what they want. The most painful to behold is Batya (Sarah Adler), a dizzy-headed and recently-dumped young woman who waitresses at a wedding reception hall and always seems on the verge of getting fired. (And who could blame her? It's the kind of place that requires waitresses to wear bachelorette party-style tiaras while working.) Unable to connect with her father, a clueless old fool with a nervous anorexic of a new girlfriend who's about Batya's age, or her mother, who's too busy organizing charity functions to pay much attention to her child, Batya only seems to focus when she finds herself the unwitting guardian of a nameless and mute young girl (Nikol Leidman) who seemed literally to wash up on the beach.
Similarly at sea is Keren (Noa Knoller), a bride who we see at the reception hall getting in a supremely bad jam. Stuck in a locked bathroom stall, she tries to climb her way out, breaking her leg in the process. This ruins her and her new husband's chance for a dream Caribbean honeymoon, marooning them instead at a lousy hotel where they can't even view the Mediterranean. Keren moons about their cramped room, while her husband Michael (Gera Sandler) tries haplessly to make things better, but ends up becoming enthralled with the single woman writer he keeps passing in the hotel, the one with the smoky voice and intellectual sensuality.
Less willfully clueless is Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a Philippine domestic worker who gets shuttled from one thankless assignment to the next, and who is first also viewed at the wedding reception. Wracked with guilt over having had to leave her son behind in the Philippines, Joy seems competent enough in her own life (unlike Batya and Keren, who can't seem to manage crossing the street) but is just cursed with bad luck. This tendency seems doubly reinforced when she's assigned to be essentially a house nurse for a racist, dyspeptic old woman who can barely stand her own daughter, much less a worker who can't speak Hebrew.
While Keret is best known in the States as a writer of quirky short stories, one of which was the basis for 2007's winning black comedy Wristcutters, here he serves strictly as co-director, leaving the writing to his wife and co-director Shira Geffen. Not surprisingly, though, Keret's knack for conjuring blithely surrealist snippets is on full view here, from the police officer who shruggingly hands over the nameless child to Bayat for a couple days of utterly unlicensed guardianship, since the social workers don't work weekends, to the glimpse we get of a god-awful-seeming, avant-garde Hamlet. The Tel Aviv that Keret and Geffen conjure is also familiar territory from his fiction, a companionably rundown beachside place, looking like a quieter Miami, without the glitz or desperation. In this rundown antithesis of a seaside mecca, Jellyfish conjures up a handful of winsome delights in its brief running time, skipping across the screen with an amiable lack of pretension.
I asked for a fork, kid.