“The Cakemaker” – the first feature film from Israeli writer and director Ofir Raul Graizer – follows in the flour-imprinted footsteps of Lasse Hallström’s “Chocolat,” Jon Favreau’s “Chef,” and Ang Lee's “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman.”
All are cinematic confections that use food to express the unspoken emotions, reveal the hidden truths, and help heal the troubled souls of the people at the soft, sweet center of their stories.
“Eating together, cooking together, having a piece of cake together – these are very emotional things that often take the place of conversation,” says Graizer from his home in Berlin. “When I watch someone eating I can recognize how they feel. And I think the audience can too.”
Graizer’s slowly unfolding, wistfully underscored and gently melodramatic film – layered with lingering close-ups of rich desserts and forlorn faces – revolves around Thomas (a gentle, doe-eyed Tim Kalkhof), a solitary, reserved and enigmatic German pastry chef at a small cafe in Berlin.
When a married Israeli businessman, Oren (an endearing Roy Miller), walks into the cafe for an espresso and slice of Black Forest cake, their connection is immediate and the two have an affair that is renewed with each of Oren’s monthly visits to Berlin.
When Oren is killed in a car accident, Thomas seeks to keep his memory alive by buying a one-way ticket to his lover’s hometown, concealing his identity, and taking a part-time job in the small, little-frequented cafe run by Oren’s widow, Anat (a wonderfully beleaguered Sarah Adler), whose contrasting sensibilities and age, according to the director, “helps bring out the chemistry between the two.” He so impresses her and her customers with his baking skills that his goods become a key attraction and his presence evolves into a welcome addition to her life and her son’s.
None of this sits well with Anat’s Orthodox brother-in-law, Moti (a stone-sober Zohar Strauss), who disapproves of the lonely German gentile in their midst and the potential effect he can have on the boy and on the cafe’s kosher certification. But he is also caring enough to ensure that Thomas doesn’t eat Shabbat supper alone and his mother (the charming Sandra Sade) – who seems to intuit Thomas’ history with Oren – sends him Shabbat left-overs.
Therein lies the extent of the social and political commentary found in this film: a restrained undercurrent in a love story void of judgment that suggests the semi-permeability of national, religious and sexual identity. This subtleness in the film’s subject matter drives cinematographer Omri Aloni’s muted imagery, French composer Dominique Charpentier’s piano-centric score, and Graizer’s purposefully slow, often ambiguous and occasionally lyrical storytelling.
Despite these attractive and intriguing qualities, each character’s clandestine motivations and unspoken hurt, as well as the film’s open-ended ending, are a tad infuriating after spending 105 minutes waiting to see how the relationships between these terribly lonely people get resolved. It is as if, after offering us all those sensuous scenes of kneading dough, Graizer decides that there will be no dessert.
Good thing the Cedar Lee Theatre concession stand comes fully stocked.
“I was obliged to create a cinematic story where there are no answers to all the questions, like in life,” notes Graizer. “There are no black and whites. There are complexities. And I think that subtlety and sometimes ambiguity allow a space for these complexities to exist.”
“The Cakemaker” had its world premiere at the 52nd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic, where it won the Ecumenical Jury Award. It has also been selected for numerous other film events, including the New York Jewish Film Festival and The Miami Jewish Film Festival, where it won the Critics Award.