There‘s a scene very early on in Kiss me Kosher where someone says (something like) “that was very nearly like one of those scenes from a 1990s RomCom.” The implication is clear – 1990s RomComs are trivial, but this film is about more weighty matters. For a start, it’s less Boy Meets Girl than Girl Meets Girl. To add to the complications, She is Israeli whereas She is German.
Then there are the families. Shira’s Israeli parents are stereotypes – a “larger than life” (ie not really believable) mother and a right wing racist father. Her grandmother seems fine on race – she’s having a hidden relationship with a Palestinian doctor after all – but she draws the line of her precious granddaughter having anything to do with a German – the “brood of Eva and Adolf”.
Perhaps the most rounded characters belong to the youngest generation. Shira’s kid sister wears an army uniform because it gets her discounts at most museums. Her brother is a bit of a joker, and follows the couple around with a camera for a film project for school. His delight at making a film about lesbians, Jews and the Holocaust nods at a problem carried by the film as a whole. To what extent is this just a project of ticking all the necessary boxes?
When Shira and Maria get engaged by mistake, Maria’s family insist on coming over to Israel. They are liberal, apologetic, and make the mistake of wanting to visit a refugee camp on the second day of their visit. Just as Maria seems to be able to strike up an immediate friendship with the local Palestinian shepherd boy, they are able to enact the unthinkable.
This had all the potential of an intelligent comedy, and it does intrude on sensitive subjects – for example, is it ok for Jewish parents to not want their children to marry Gentiles when asking Germans if they have problems with Jews is so shocking? I’m not suggesting that there is a simple pat answer to all of these questions, but they are worth exploring.
And yet, this is where Kiss me Kosher falls down. It tries to combine knockabout comedy with serious discussion, but on several occasions it just gets the tone completely wrong. Now the film is not offensive in the way that Life is Beautiful is offensive, but it often makes the same mistake of (a) trying to be light hearted where there’s not much to laugh at, and (b) just not being funny enough.
Maria is subjected to a barrage of abuse by Shira’s family who seem to cling onto the idea that there is a German racism gene that is passed down from generation to generation (ponder to think of the irony of that one, folks). But this seems to bother her less than the fact that every woman she comes across seems to be one of Shira’s exes. Now I may be missing a subtle point here, but something here felt distinctly unpalatable.
And then when the film does try to get serious, this sits uneasily among all the tomfoolery. They visit a Holocaust museum where Shira is quickly bored because she’s had this rammed down her throat all her life. Maria, however, is profoundly moved, saying that this is the first time she’s considered the Holocaust as a non-German. Now I’m not convinced by the point trying to be made here, but the moment would have been much more profound in a film, where you’re not expecting a chance meeting with an ex in the next scene.
Despite all misgivings, Kiss me Kosher is able to handle some difficult issues with some ease. Not everyone is delighted that Shira and Maria are gay, but apart from an Orthodox jew in an early scene, everyone accepts that this is just how they are. There is also some critique of Israeli settlers, although it does seem that mentioning a Two State Solution may be a little bit too radical.
Kiss Me Kosher tries and often fails. It would like to give us an intelligent narrative about sexual and racial politics, but is ultimately too lightweight to do this successfully. It also would like to make us laugh, but most of the jokes just aren’t funny enough and too many of the characters just fall into caricature.
And, by the way, it does ultimately turn into a typical 1990s with an obligatory happy ending. Not one, not two, but three couples end up pledging their troth despite having shown differently suspicious feelings about marriage earlier in the film. What starts off as a depiction of how difficult families can be ends up seeing no alternative to happy families. Which is all a bit predictable.
Having said all that, the film should be lauded for its ambition. Better to aim for the moon and not arrive than to successfully grub around in the mud. But the viewer does long for the much better film that could have been made out of this mess.