Film Review: The Cakemaker

A film as sweet in its way as the delicacy its title promises, but also more than a bit cloying.
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In Ofir Rau Graizer’s The Cakemaker, lonely gay German baker Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) and traveling Israeli businessman Oren (Roy Miller) meet and fall in love in Berlin. Their romance is sustained by Oren’s monthly work trips to the German capital, but comes to an abrupt end when Oren dies in a car crash while in his home town of Jerusalem.  Seeking closure, a bereft Thomas travels to Jerusalem, where he not only meets Oren’s wife Anat (Sarah Adler)—without telling her who he is—but gets a job as a dishwasher in her struggling café. He soon reveals his baking skills and his delicious Black Forest cake—although not strictly kosher, for neither is Anat—turns her establishment into a success. But how long can this ruse continue?

The purview of this film, with its passionate if improbable plotting, is romance, incurable and obsessive. Nothing wrong with that, for such has propelled movies as diverse as Letter from an Unknown Woman to Last Tango in Paris to Call Me By Your Name since the flickering silents. But this is such a wan romance. We learn next to nothing about Thomas, other than his attention to his oven and his mourning, or why exactly a strapping, handsome and sweet guy like him should be such a basic sad sack. A kiss at their first encounter immediately seals the deal between him and Oren, who is also an enigma, albeit one with a double life. The hoary German vis-à-vis Jew trope does offer some dramatic tension, specifically with the character of Moti (Zohar Shtrauss), Oren’s religiously observant and hostile brother, who is taken aback by agnostic Anat’s sudden involvement with a goyische stranger utterly ignorant about his religion.

Indeed, we learn far more about traditional kosher laws regarding food than the characters who prepare and eat it. Luckily, a highly appealing cast manages to make the most of the thin material. Kalkhof invests his taciturn character with an attractive, innate dignity and weight. Adler’s stricken yet febrile, observant eyes tell us more about Anat’s inner strength and sensitivity than any lines she delivers, while Shtrauss has an obstinate intensity that pierces through the almost precious ambiance of lovelorn woe permeating the film, with its requisite, wistfully tinkling music score.  

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