International Critics Week

CANNES -- Etgar Keret is well-known internationally as a writer of offbeat, fragmentary short stories -- his latest collection, "The Nimrod Flipout," has been highly praised in the U.S. and British media -- and his debut directorial feature effort, scripted and co-directed by his partner Shira Geffen, is a similarly mosaic composition. Several stories, or scraps of stories, are woven together in the making of "Jellyfish" ("Meduzot"), linked by common themes and a shared sense of humor, poetry and loss.

Though the main characters -- Keren and Michael, a newly married couple; Batya, who works for a caterer specializing in weddings; and Joy, an Indonesian domestic -- do not meet, or do so only fleetingly, the movie builds to a wholly convincing finale that lingers in the mind long after the final credits. The film should enjoy a long life on the festival circuit and ample theatrical opportunities in many territories.

When Keren (Noa Knoller) breaks a leg at the wedding reception, their Caribbean honeymoon is called off and they book into a hotel by the beach. The enforced idleness is already creating strains between them when Michael (Gera Sandler) meets an attractive female poet who offers to exchange rooms with them because theirs is facing away from the sea.

Batya (Sarah Adler), who lives in a crumbling apartment and has trouble paying the bills, finds her life turned upside down by a 5-year-old girl (Nicole Leidman), who appears mysteriously out of the sea and passes into her care. Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a sweet-natured maid who lives only to send money and make long-distance telephone calls to her daughter overseas, finds herself the unwitting instrument of a reconciliation between a sick old woman, Malka (Zharira Charifai), and her daughter Galia, an actress (Ilanit Ben-Yaakov).

The action takes place entirely in Tel Aviv, the city where Keret and Geffen have spent most of their lives, and usually a short distance from the sea that, as Keret notes, has become for many Israelis a refuge, a place of shelter and comfort in that troubled country where people can find themselves.

There are frequent visual and verbal references to the sea and ships, and the movie's view of its characters is made plain in the title: Like jellyfish, they are free-floating, driven here and there by forces beyond their control, bereft of moorings.

This is to make "Jellyfish" sound more arty or intellectual than it is. There is an abundance of finely observed detail and plenty of humor, mostly of the wry, ironic kind, often with a keen sense of the absurd. When a policeman wants to explain to Batya, who has just presented him with the lost child, that there is an astonishingly large number of missing people out there, he produces a file of individual cases and proceeds to fold them into origami paper boats.

Though the overall effect of the movie is downbeat but haunting, Keret and Geffen end on a note of optimism. The child returns to the sea as mysteriously as she had emerged from it. Batya plunges in after her and appears set to drown but is pulled from the waves by the photographer friend she has met earlier. The clear implication, as the movie concludes with a Hebrew rendition of Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose," is that her life is beginning anew.

Lama Films, Les Films du Poisson
Directors: Etgar Keret, Shira Geffen
Writer: Shira Geffen
Producers: Amir Harel, Ayelet Kit, Yael Fogiel
Director of photography: Antoine Heberle
Production design: Avi Fahima
Music: Christopher Bowen
Editing: Sacha Franklin, Francois Gedigier
Batya: Sarah Adler
Little girl: Nicole Leidman
Michael: Gera Sandler
Keren: Noa Knoller
Joy: Ma-nenita De Latorre
Malka: Zharira Charifai
Galia: Ilanit Ben-Yaakov
running time 78 minutes
No MPAA rating