Tom Tugend Jewish Journal of Greater L.A.
The Israeli-German film The Cakemaker — an indie festival favorite — has it all.
The Cakemaker should satisfy the most finicky pastry lover, but the Israeli-German co-production has also elicited both ecstatic praise and sneering dismissal from film critics.
Variety gushes over the “tender, tactile” atmosphere of the “auspicious feature debut,” while the Hollywood Reporter dismisses the “wishy-washy characters … weak screenplay … and stiff performance” of the lead character.
Audiences are likely to be divided along the same lines, depending to a large extent on their tolerance for sexually and emotionally complex characters that don’t fall easily into standard categories.
Despite this, The Cakemaker has been one of the more successful indie films on the international festival circuit over the past year.
Thomas (German actor Tim Kalkhof) runs a small cake and pastry café in Berlin. Among his most loyal customers is Israeli businessman Oren, who works for an Israeli-German city planning company. Oren is played by Israeli actor Roy Miller.
Although devoted to his wife, Anat, and young son back in Jerusalem, Oren finds himself sexually attracted to Thomas, and the two begin an affair. When Oren has to return to Jerusalem, he promises to stay in touch and return to Berlin a month later.
No spoilers; it’s all revealed in the trailer: When Thomas doesn’t hear from Oren, he keeps calling him but there is no response. Eventually he checks in with Oren’s office and discovers Oren was killed in an auto accident.
Distraught, but determined to learn more about his dead lover, Thomas flies to Israel and tracks down the restaurant run by Anat (played by talented Israeli actress Sarah Adler.)
Without revealing his relationship with Oren, Thomas is hired as a dishwasher. However, he can’t resist baking some cookies on the side, which delight Anat and her son. Less delighted is Anat’s observant brother Moti (Zohar Strauss) because the German unwittingly has used treif ingredients, thus putting at risk the restaurant’s kosher certification.
Nevertheless, Thomas now moves into full cake-baking mode, and the hitherto sparsely patronized restaurant becomes a highly popular local eatery.
Anat soon falls in love with Thomas and makes the initial sexual overtures. After some hesitation, Thomas reciprocates.
The Cakemaker looks at the complexities created when people of different and changing sexual orientations, religions and nationalities try to establish close relationships.
Orchestrating the complex interactions in his first feature film is Ofir Raul Graizer, born in Israel but working out of Berlin. The film’s dialogue, written also by Graizer, is in Hebrew, German, and — when Israelis converse with Germans — English.
Graizer is openly gay but argues in both his professional and personal life against defining a person by a single facet. Raised by a religious father and a secular mother, Graizer explained his perspective in an interview with the online site Cineuropa.
“I always wanted to tell a story about people who don’t want to be defined by political, sexual or national identities,” he said. “They want to say, ‘I don’t care about this identity; I am who I am. I want to love someone because I need to be close to that person and not because I’m homosexual or heterosexual.’”
The Cakemaker is currently playing at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township. It will open at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theatre on Aug. 17.