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Melisa Liebenthal

One day, Marina, thirty-something, wakes up with a different face. This metamorphosis is a pretext for a shrewd reflection on identity and what a change of appearance can mean for our relationship with others and society. Does our face represent our identity? Is Marina still the same person? How do you live with a different face and still remain the same? These are all questions that Melisa Liebenthal wittily enjoys raising with directing that’s precise and humorous, where the quirky rubs shoulders with the banal. Plagued by existential angst, her private and social life affected, Marina also sees this transformation as an opportunity to free herself of certain obligations and invent a new persona. To “address the unreal with as much realism as possible”, to paraphrase Cocteau, the director cheerfully weaves together different genres: comedy, documentary and a visual essay. As in her earlier films, her playground is the exploration of family photo albums, which are none other than her own – Marina’s “real” face is Melisa’s. Cut out, cropped, zoomed in, pasted back together, these images no longer refer to anything or anyone. Even the possibility of identification is shattered, and imaginatively analysed via 2D animations that hijack the language of facial recognition. Added to this is valuable documentary material that lets us observe human behaviours as people look at the animals in a zoo, with their greater or lesser “humanity”. In this hierarchy, the jellyfish is right at the bottom. Amorphous, anonymous and inscrutable, it subverts the paradigms of identity and, through its subtle modulations, embodies an ideal of freedom, a fluid existence caught up in perpetual movement.

Louise Martin Papasian

In your previous films you questioned identity, through the beauty injunctions imposed on the female gender (Las lindas) or your family heritage (Aquí y allá). El Rostro de la Medusa questions the physical and symbolic contours of this identity, and what underpins it, through the story of Marina, who wakes up with a face other than her own. How did this idea come about? 

I started this project with an interest in our relationship with animals, especially our attraction to them. With this in mind, I started visiting zoos and aquariums with my small video camera and a sound recorder to see what I found in those spaces. 

What caught my attention pretty quickly was how people sought almost desperately to be noticed by the animals –to cross glances and to be recognized by them. When those two gazes finally met, for me, something magical would happen. A problematic encounter of course given that the other species is in captivity. However, this observation made me think that an encounter, at least from the human point of view, happens to a great extent through the look and the face. This led me to wonder more exclusively about the meaning of the face and its fundamental place in the way we identify ourselves. From here, from the images, I started the process of writing the script.

The film is imbued with fantasy, and this motif is part of a tradition of horror cinema. However, your treatment of it involves other registers, oscillating between the comedy genre, documentary and essay, with a playful dimension. Can you talk about the writing?


Since the very beginning of the project I knew that I wanted to combine the research documentary footage I had captured in the zoos with the fictional story of a character. This came from an idea of incorporating the process into the film, and it became the major challenge and aesthetic risk of the film. I worked on the script alone intermittently for a couple of years, and then together with a scriptwriter, Agustín Godoy. It was only after working with him for a while that the idea of a character whose face changes overnight came up. With this storyline, the character suddenly was inhabiting in her own flesh the questions of the film about identity, and the other exogenous materials could start to dialogue with the fiction in a more intuitive way. It was as if the film was a big working table where all these materials would come to intertwine.  

With the fiction, we were clearly not interested in giving explanations about the protagonist’s face change, or in investigating possible reasons. We wanted to focus on something more intimate, on how this event affected her daily life and her inner circle. It was always clear that the tone had to be light, it had to embrace the nonsense of the situation. Besides, there was always something funny in the documentary material of the zoos, something of the absurdity of existence that for me is very typical of the documentary register, and I think that also informed everything else. 

You give great importance to the presence of animals: a quotation from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Eighth Duino Elegy in the opening shots of cows, numerous documentary sequences filmed in a zoo. Could you come back to this dimension of the film? And to the specific figure of the jellyfish, which gives the film its title, to embody this transformation?

The film’s seed was in a question about our fascination towards the other species, and that led to the research documentary footage in the zoos. I came across Rilke’s poem very early in the development of the project, and I was struck by it because to me it clearly evoked the immeasurable mystery of animal otherness. It also introduced the somewhat romantic idea that (non-human) animals have a less obstructed gaze than humans, more connected to “the open”. This is what fascinated me and one of the reasons for looking at animals in the film.

When I was stealing images of people and animals looking at each other in the zoos, another question quickly emerged: what about animals without faces and without eyes that cannot look back at us, such as jellyfish? Was a connection with such otherness possible? 

The figure of the jellyfish for me symbolizes the liberating potential of being faceless, of not being anyone in particular. Not having a self or an external image to hold on to –I think is a liberating concept in such an egocentric and image-centric world. 

You use personal and family photographic archives, and appear as Marina before her face changes radically. Why this personal involvement? 

These personal archival photos were part of the project before the story was about a character whose face changed. It was quite natural for me to include them given that in my previous films (Las lindas and Aquí y allá) I also worked with my family photo archive, so when I was working on the Jellyfish around 2017 and 2018 I was still very much in that logic. I wanted to use ID card photos and school portraits because they spoke back to the idea of official and institutional identity that defines us so strongly. I find that working with my own photos pushed me to go further in the game of deconstructing the images, because in that intimate process I was questioning my own identity on a very personal level.

How did you work with your actress?

Rocío Stellato joined the project very early on, and this was key, since it was the first time I was working on a larger project, with a fiction script and professional actors. Once we had the (almost) final version of the script and the shooting date, we had the privilege to do many rehearsals with her and the other actors, which also helped us to have a pretty clear sense in the shooting of what we were looking for. 

In the work with Rocío, we talked mainly about the emotional state of the character in each scene, what she wanted deep down in each moment –basically what was happening to her internally. We also worked a lot on the tone: we wanted to achieve something quite dry, there had to be some distance for there to be humor and absurdity, we could not be indulgent with the expression of feelings. I think Marina is a rather introspective character, who has an existential conflict, and to me Rocío gives her that kind of seriousness and constant concern while at times also being clumsy and lost. I remember that Rocío told me that she loved to be able to see a character fumble and make mistakes in a film, and that that was to her what we were going for, which I found very enlightening.  

Interview by Louise Martin Papasian

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Technical sheet

Argentina / 2023 / 75’

Music: Inés Copertino
Cast: Rocio Stellato, Vladimir Durán, Federico Sack

Production: Eugenia Campos Guevara (Gentil Cine)