“The Cakemaker”

A Metaphor

Amos Lassen

“The Cakemaker” is “a metaphor for the way the world views changing relationships and mores.” The film begins as a gay love story between Thomas (Tim Kalkhof), a young German pastry chef and cafe owner and Oren (Roy Miller), an Israeli businessman who drops by during his work-related visits to Berlin. The two men have built a friendship but at the end of each trip Oren returns to his wife and son in Jerusalem. When the young man finds out, after a long and worrying absence, that his lover has been killed in a car accident he decides to deal with his grief by going to Jerusalem to find out more about his relatively casual acquaintance.

He discovers the cafe owned by the man’s wife Anat (Sarah Adler) and gets into conversation and eventually lands himself a job and an apartment. Neither knows of the mutual connection yet both are trying to come to terms with Oren’s death. Since Thomas is non-Jewish and a German, he represents an awkward presence among the Orthodox locals – but his cakes do great business and he and Anat develop a friendly relationship.

The film explores the nature of love and how it is dealt with by characters across the divides.It starts off by dealing with the difficult subject of bereavement through the story of a man and woman both grieving the death of the same lover. Death and sexuality are handled in an understanding and subtle way by director Ofir Raul Grazier, with bereavement and love depicted in a manner of forms and always in a non-judgmental way. Love is shown as existing between two men, a husband and wife, a mother and child – and none is seen as purer or more important than another. Each transcends culture, religion and gender seamlessly. The performances are as understated and delicate throughout this beautifully fragile film. Tomas’ words are few as he finds himself in an unknown territory where he has to get to grips with Jewish traditions such as kosher cooking and Shabbat.

As he befriends his lover’s widow and son, and then begins to bake his famous cakes and biscuits, he begins to gain confidence and truly grieve his lost love. It is interesting that everyone seems unaware that this new visitor ever knew Oren, that is except for Oren’s mother, who seems to know a lot more than she ever lets on.

This is a delicate film that perfectly encapsulates love in its many forms at a time when both religion and LGBT rights are in constant discussion in the press and personal lives. The film manages to transcend all boundaries. When the film works best is in its ambiguities.  Does Tomas return Anat’s advances because he was always bisexual and is actually attracted to her, or is he gay but somehow wants to feel close to his ex-lover?  How much does Oren’s mother know about the men’s relationship? How will Anat and Thomas’ relationship resolve itself.  There are no clear-cut answers.

In an official statement, Graizer has said that this is his story; a story of characters that wish to put aside their definitions of nationality, sexuality and religion. “it is a story full of love for people, life, food and cinema.” The story moves between Berlin and Jerusalem, between east and west, between past and present. In this journey Thomas, who goes to find a cure for a private loss, encounters an inner-Israeli conflict of religion and secularism. “The subject of Kosher, the importance of Shabbat (Saturday), the place of tradition in secular society become a barrier in Thomas’s way to absolution, leads him to doubt every aspect of his own being, and provides him with a different perspective of his love memories.”

There is a sense of yearning and melancholy in every frame of “The Cakemaker” as it explores the struggles of mourning from two initially contrasting, yet intertwined perspectives: a married Israeli man’s secret Berlin-based lover, and that of his wife and the mother of his son, who owns a cafe in Jerusalem. Under this nuanced dual character study is a look at traditions and the divisions they inspire, be they national, sexual or religious. Graizer moves quickly through the abridged, clandestine romance of Thomas and Oren in a matter-of-fact manner, they meet;, a year later, they’re cozy and periodically cohabitating and their faces are filled with emotion. They’re close and comfortable, despite Oren’s other life back home and Thomas’ clear wish for something more permanent.

A spate of unreturned voicemail messages and an awkward trip to Oren’s Berlin office later, Thomas is bereaved learning that Oren was been killed in a car accident. Thomas travels to Jerusalem like a sad and lost puppy; he visits the cafe owned by Anat, asks for work. When she eventually gives him a job as a dishwasher, a new connection begins but this time, Graizer is in no hurry, keeping his focus intimate but happily giving his characters room to cope with their common source of sorrow, and to learn to trust and find solace in each other.

Of course, even when Thomas eventually, inevitably begins to bake and thus improve the cafe’s fortunes, much still conspires against their friendship, as well as the possibility of something more. Anat’s brother-in-law (Zohar Strauss) delivers stern reprimands about jeopardizing the café’s kosher status and Thomas’ unmentioned history with Oren lingers in the air.

Unspoken truths and realizations simmer for as long as possible. Graizer lets his protagonists’ actions and choices subvert the norm: charting a man’s pain for the relationship he can never talk about, embracing a German in a Jewish kitchen despite warnings to the contrary, and watching a bond bloom between two people who shared the same lover.

Our two main characters are as different as they are similar yet slowly move closer together. The film works a complex range of social and religious tensions into its tender narrative, without ever feeling sanctimonious. It is an unusual story of same-sex romance that acknowledges the fluidity of sexuality and desire, particularly with regard to emotional need with love taking a variety of shapes here, none more pure than any other.

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