'Kiss Me Kosher' - An Effective Queer Rom-com

"Kiss Me Kosher" via IMDb.

Originally scheduled to be released in autumn 2023, “Kiss Me Kosher” (Menemsha) was pulled from theaters in consideration of the horrific events that unfolded in early October 2023. Initially, the plan was to release “Kiss Me Kosher,” during “quieter times,” but perhaps in the spirit of possible (and wishful) reconciliation, it’s being given a second chance in the spring of 2024.

Whether you call it “Kiss Me Kosher,” or by its loaded original name “Kiss Me Before It Blows Up,” the full-length feature debut by writer/director Shirel Peleg is a charming addition to the canon of contemporary Israeli cinema. It’s an effective queer rom-com that also manages to make a political statement, especially at a time when Israel is once again at war.

Shira (Moran Rosenblatt), a kind of modern-day lesbian Casanova, co-owns a Tel Aviv bar called The Jewish Princess, named for her grandmother Berta (Rivka Michaeli). Shira is extremely close to Berta, who lost most of her family during the holocaust. In fact, Berta is a major investor in Shira’s bar. While playing Monopoly and smoking cigarettes, Shira talks excitedly about her new girlfriend Maria (Luise Wolfram), a young woman scientist from Stuttgart, with whom she is moving in after being together for only three months.

While Berta is accepting of Shira being a lesbian, she’s not particularly thrilled with Maria being from Germany. But Berta doesn’t have room to criticize anyone, as she is carrying on a secret (to everyone but Shira) relationship with Palestinian doctor Ibrahim (Salim Daw). 

Fortunately for Shira, her entire family, including Israeli-born mother Ora (Irit Kaplan), American “settler” (as Berta calls him) father Ron (John Carroll Lynch), sister Ella (Aviv Pinkas), and brother Liam (Eyal Shikratzi), have been accepting of her being a lesbian since she came out at 13. Liam is also happy about Maria’s arrival as he has decided to make the duo, “his favorite Israeli/German dyke couple,” the subject of his film school documentary. When Ora and Ron are interviewed by Liam for the doc, in unison they reference Shira scoring the holy trinity of girlfriends, “lesbian, gentile, German.”

But things get off to a rocky start. Shortly after Maria arrives, she and Shira run into Neta (Noa Biron), one of Shira’s exes. An awkward moment leads to a sudden proposal, including a ring, from Maria. She is the first in a series of Shira’s exes, including Maya (Dafi Shoshana-Alpern), who begin popping up around Tel Aviv. Berta is relentless in her disapproval of Maria, and it doesn’t help that Maria isn’t forthcoming about her German family’s history.

A planned visit to Israel by Maria’s (unmarried) parents, Hans (Bernhard Schütz) and Petra (Juliane Köhler), only serves to complicate matters. Petra is obsessed with not crossing the Green Line (the border between Israel and the West Bank). Additionally, she is harboring a potentially dangerous secret about her family’s activities during World War II.

While all these details sound like undeniably serious subject matters, they are handled in ways that manage to be both comedic and respectful. Peleg deserves credit for not only creating characters that feel genuine, but also placing them in situations in which humor is used to defuse tension without being overly silly. Wolfram, Michaeli, and especially Rosenblatt, all turn in performances that never fail to hold our attention. In Hebrew, Arabic, German, and English, with subtitles.

Rating: B


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