Written and directed by Ofir Raul Grazier, The Cakemaker
is a sad and sensitive exploration of an emotionally and culturally unique relationship. The 113-minute Israeli drama opens at the Cedar Lee Friday.
Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) is a soft-spoken pastry chef in Berlin who, in the opening scene, meets Oren (Roy Miller), an Israeli businessman who travels frequently to Germany for work. There’s an instant attraction, conveyed deftly and probingly in the soft light of the cafe, and the two strike up an affair. When Oren suddenly stops returning calls a year later, Thomas discovers that he has been killed in a car crash in Jerusalem. Thomas travels there to get some peripheral whiff, we sense, of the man he loved.
Oren left a wife, Anat (Sarah Adler), and a son, Itai (Tamir Ben Yehuda), and before long Thomas enters their life, earning a job as a dishwasher and errand boy at Anat’s cafe.
One of the central questions of the film — with deep metaphorical reverberations — is whether or not Anat will manage to keep her cafe’s kosher certificate. Though Anat is not religious, the kosher certificate is crucial for maintaining her devoutly Jewish clientele. And hiring Thomas, a German, is perceived with confusion and alarm by Anat’s strict brother, Moti (Zohar Shtrauss). Anat learns, nevertheless, that Thomas is skilled in the kitchen, and delights in the popularity of his pastries. But because he’s unable to use the oven, according to kosher rules, Anat must bake the recipes that Thomas concocts.
All the while, Anat is ignorant of Thomas’ connection to her husband, though she begins to stitch together clues about Oren’s life in Germany, even as she develops affection for Thomas herself. It’s clear that these are two very lonely people, two outcasts in different senses. And one of the great successes of the quiet and heartsore script is its ongoing portrayal of loneliness without ever resorting to high tragedy.
Both Kalkhof and Adler turn in strong performances as Thomas and Anat. In their scenes together, deep wells of emotion are often visible beneath the untroubled surfaces. Other times, the surfaces themselves are troubled, as in the moment of frustration in the kitchen — Anat can’t get the dough to obey — when Anat and Thomas stumble into lovemaking. Anat first touches Thomas’s hair impulsively, and then leans on him. When she tries to kiss him, Thomas backs away, and they lock eyes for a long time. It’s not the heat of passion that drives them together but something else, a sadness.
The following scene is merely Anat sitting alone in silence, giggling as her eyes well up with tears.
It’s worth noting that there is much baking in the film as well! Lovers of the Food Network will appreciate Thomas’s elegant and simple recipes, from the German Chocolate Cake that Oren lovingly devours in the first scene to the warm cinnamon cookies that crumble in Anat’s hands when she first senses Thomas’ culinary talents.