Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the art house, along comes another lonely- urbanites ensemble piece: Jellyfish, an Israeli film that won the Caméra d'Or for best first feature at Cannes last year. What a relief that from the start—which plays out against a dreamy Hebrew version of Piaf's "La Vie en Rose"—it's clear this one is more Miranda July than Paul Haggis.
Jellyfish centers on three women in Tel Aviv: Batya (Sarah Adler), a shy wedding server recently dumped by her boyfriend; Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a Filipina immigrant who takes care of grumpy old folks while missing her son back home; and Keren (Noa Knoller), a pouty bride whose honeymoon is spoiled by a broken leg. Also hanging around are a mute child who emerges from the sea and a possibly time-traveling ice-cream vendor. It could have been death by whimsy, but the filmmakers understand what urban alienation sounds and looks like: The movie is hushed and its city-dwellers bustle about, trying to hide their disappointment in how life has ended up. Even with its overly literary three-pronged structure, the streak of melancholy running through Jellyfish feels authentic. Keret and Geffen observe situations with such a low-key, spaced-out humor that moments in which their depressed characters finally reach for human connection sneak up on you with unexpected emotion.
Jellyfish also has the distinction of being a nearly apolitical Israeli film, though the pervasive disillusionment hints at a bleak reality looming behind the characters' smaller-scale problems. It speaks to how well the movie works that its guiding metaphor, somehow both ham-fisted and elusive, ultimately feels touchingly appropriate. The women in the film are the creatures of the title: adrift, slightly defensive, and carried along—hopefully to better things—by tides beyond their control.