The idea of star crossed lovers, couples facing insurmountable odds, has been with us since the dawn of storytelling. Such opposition can come in all shapes and forms, but for the couple at the centre of Shirel Peleg’s debut feature, Kiss Me Before It Blows Up, it’s personal, historical and painful.
Not that it sounds like it, but this is a rom-com, one that places reason after reason why Shira (Moran Rosenblatt) and Maria (Luise Wolfram) shouldn’t be together. There’s the marriage proposal, which turns out to be an accident, Maria’s growing doubts as to whether they “fit” but hardest of all is the cultural one. Shira lives in Israel and is Jewish, while Maria is German: grandmother Berta (Rivka Michaeli) makes it transparently clear that she can’t come to terms with this, and the rest of the family find it awkward, to say the least. But Berta has a relationship which goes against the cultural and political grain as well: her neighbour and boyfriend is Ibrahim (Salim Dau), a Palestinian.
It’s an absolute hornet’s nest of historical and political issues, with the legacy of the Holocaust barely concealed beneath the surface, while the Green Line and its checkpoints, separating Israelis and Palestinians, is a constant presence. An unlikely setting for a comedy, but Peleg manages to find some humour where you wouldn’t expect it, as well as in more obvious places, while still trying to address the opposition the two girls face and the underlying reasons. It starts with the orthodox man who, seeing them kiss on the street, shouts abuse at them for everybody to hear. Shira’s noisy family don’t hold back either: in fact, it’s not their way to be restrained about anything, so heated discussions – particularly about politics and security, pet subjects of her father Ron (John Carroll Lynch) – are nothing unusual. The more reserved Maria finds it hard to cope with, provoking the hiccups that always put in an appearance when she’s stressed. Hardest of all, though, is Bertha’s intransigence, driving a wedge between her and her granddaughter that nearly puts Maria on the first plane back to Germany.
In a film with as many ups and downs as the relationship at its centre, the laughs come mainly from Shira’s family, but not all of them land. Her teenage brother Liam (Eyal Shikratzi) is little more than an irritant as he follows his sister and her fiancée around with his video camera, while others are as conventional as they come – teaching Maria a phrase in Hebrew but deliberately mis-translating it is simply too obvious and clichéd for words. The film’s biggest saving grace are the two sets of parents, especially Ron and Ora (Irit Kaplan) whose verbal sparring has a genuine warmth and wit. In their own words, Maria presents them with a “triple whammy. Lesbian, gentile and German.” The film needs more of them.
The relationship between Bertha and Ibrahim, however, is strangely under-developed. Despite its potential as a parallel storyline, it’s pushed to one side and resolved all too easily. The end result is a film which could have done so much more, both in terms of humour and more serious issues, but never really satisfies on both fronts.
Comedy | Cert: tbc | BFI Flare, 17 – 28 March 2021 | Dir. Shirel Peleg | Moran Rosenblatt, Luise Wolfram, Rivka Michaeli, John Carroll Lynch, Irit Kaplan, Eyal Shikratzi, Salim Dau.