BFI LFF: The Cakemaker (2017)

Ofir Raul Graizer’s The Cakemaker is a sweetly moving mixture that stirs together love and grief.

The German Israeli Bakeoff

by Alexa Dalby

The Cakemaker

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

It’s hard to believe The Cakemaker is director and screenwriter Ofir Raul Graizer’s first feature, it is such an assured, well-judged and sweetly moving study of a gay man’s journey through grief and loneliness.

Tomas (Tim Kalkhof) is a talented pastry chef who owns and single-handedly runs a small cafe in Berlin. His Israeli married lover is Oren, who visits him on his frequent business trips to Berlin. Tomas is quiet, kind and loving but he lives a solitary, rather lonely, life when Oren, whom he dotes on, is in Israel. Oren genuinely cares for him too, but tells him that his wife must never find out about their relationship.

They spend a blissful year together but after one such trip, after a bewildered and agonised Tomas finds that Oren’s phone has been disconnected, he finally learns from a third party the bare facts that Oren has died. Grieving and seeking to understand what happened, Tomas goes to Jerusalem and tracks down the cafe run by Oren’s widow Anat (Sarah Adler). She has just reopened it after her period of mourning. Without revealing that he knew her husband, Tomas becomes a regular customer and when it gets busy, she offers him a job. As he starts to cook his signature biscuits and cakes, his reputation spreads, business increases and his unobtrusive helpfulness becomes indispensable to Anat. Although his non-Jewish bakes lose Anat her valuable Kosher certificate, she draws closer to him, as does her son Itai (Tamir Ben Yehuda), and seeing how much a part of the family Tomas has become, her mother and brother start to overcome their hostility to him as a potentially harmful stranger, a German and a non-Jew.

Slowly and calmly told, The Cakemaker is a charming and touching story of decent people and their loneliness, shared grief and love for the same man – though Tomas’s is a painful, strangled grief that can’t be revealed in that religious Jewish society. The contrast in colour and vibrancy between Berlin and Jerusalem suggests the awakening that the chaos and closeness of Israeli life could have on him. The film is a little beautifully iced gem.

The Cakemaker screens in the 61st BFI London Film Festival on 5, 6 and 15 October 2017.

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