There’s a very palpable “more is more” philosophy at Cannes: more glamor, more stars, more wasteful opulence. But while the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford and Robert Pattinson have graced the red carpet in the past 24 hours, my attention has been riveted by a couple of intimate Israeli films that premiered in the festival’s independently organized sidebar programs, Semaine de la Critique and Director’s Fortnight.
Shira Geffen, whose film “Jellyfish,” a collaboration with her husband, the writer Etgar Keret, won the Camera d’Or in 2007, was back at the festival with the mesmerizing, funny and often unsettling “Self Made” (“Boreg”), which is screening in Semaine de la Critique. Going solo as director, Geffen, who also wrote the screenplay, gives us a double-portrait of an avant-garde Tel Aviv performance artist and a troubled Palestinian woman hermetically sealed inside themselves. The title refers to, among other things, an Ikea-like furniture company that Michal (the tragicomic and often panic-stricken Sarah Adler) calls after her side of the bed crashes to the floor one morning, giving her a nasty bruise (as well as possible amnesia) and setting off the often-hilarious chain of events that will eventually result in her trading places with the Palestinian Nadine (Samira Saraya, very stubborn and stoic) at a checkpoint.
Over the course of a single day, Michal is beset by a stream of unwelcome visitors, including a pushy and sanctimonious German TV crew who want to interview her about her upcoming work at the Biennial (hint: she’s undergone very invasive surgery to produce it) to a seafood chef who plays the violin in order to soften up the crabs. While Michal’s world is turned on its head, Nadine gets fired from her job in the DIY furniture factory that delivers Michal’s new bed, repeatedly gets into trouble at the Israeli checkpoint and is set up on a date with a neighbor’s son who, after sleeping with her, tries to recruit her as a suicide bomber.