Updated: Feb 7
The Cakemaker is a quietly touching, subtly written Israeli/German drama about love, grief, religion and pastry. It handles all of these themes delicately, creating a poignant portrait of two people trying to move their lives forward after losing a loved one. I truly cared about what happened to them. That is a credit to the performances as well as the writing and direction. The conflicts and characters feel real and honest. This is a wonderful film.
Thomas works in a café in Berlin making pastries. Oren is an Israeli man who conducts business in Germany once a month. They meet when Oren comes to the café. Even though Oren is married with a young son, they begin an affair. One year later, Oren returns home from a visit and does not come back. In desperation, Thomas tries to find him and learns that he died in a car accident. Needing to connect with his lost lover in any way he can, Thomas travels to Jerusalem and goes to the café run by Oren’s wife, Anat. He asks her for a job and soon they develop a tentative friendship, though she is unaware as to what really brought him there.
The Cakemaker (107 minutes without the end credits) is not a story full of twists, turns and shocking surprises. The audience knows who these people are and what they are both going through. The drama comes from the various problems that arise from Thomas entering Anat’s life. Besides the major secret, there is the language barrier. Thomas speaks German and Anat speaks Hebrew. Being in a country where he does not know the language adds to the idea that he is an outsider in this world. In order to talk to each other, they find common ground by communicating in English.
There is also the frightening possibility that having a non-Jewish German working in her kitchen could cost Anat her Kosher certificate and, with it, a lot of customers. This issue is personified by Oren’s religious brother, Moti. He could easily have become the villain of this piece, but the movie never stereotypes him. While he does not like the fact that Anat has hired Thomas, he is a human being, not lacking in compassion.
There is even more compassion in the performances of Tim Kalkhof as Thomas and Sarah Adler as Anat. Thomas is an introspective character. He feels intensely, but tries to keep his emotions to himself. There is little exposition for him, so Kalkhof has to show us what Thomas is experiencing. There is a moment in the film where he responds strongly to a revelation Anat makes concerning Oren. However, he does so in a way that allows the audience to understand his reaction, without arousing Anat’s suspicions. It is very well executed.
Sarah Adler is able to be much more emotive. Amid running the café, attempting to recover from the recent loss of her husband and struggling with her Judaism (Oren was the religious one in their family), she is also trying to raise her son. There is a lot on her metaphorical plate. Thomas’ arrival helps lead her to figure out who she is without Oren. Adler gets more dialogue to establish her feelings and she delivers it with nuance. This is not an angry woman, she has just been weighed down by life. It is the less showy of the two main roles, but an equally impressive performance.
Many things about The Cakemaker are impressive. It is a relatively simple story in outline, which could have gone in any number of obvious ways. It would have been easy for writer/director/co-producer Ofir Raul Graizer to turn The Cakemaker into a soap opera. He could have focused on Thomas’ secret or made one of the leads unsympathetic, yet he did not. The secret sets up the plot, but it is not specifically about it. This is a story dealing with extremely complex emotions. It does so clearly and with a distinct absence of melodrama. Graizer (in his debut) does not judge his characters or make the viewer choose between them. They are good people suffering through a difficult time. This film empathizes with them. It is as skillfully crafted as Thomas’ deserts, and just as brilliant.
4½ out of 5
Tim Kalkhof as Thomas
Sarah Adler as Anat Nachmias
Roy Miller as Oren Nachmias
Zohar Strauss as Moti
Tomer Ben Yehuda as Itai Nachmias
Written and Directed by Ofir Raul Graizer