Ofir Raul Graizer, the writer/director of the acclaimed new drama The Cakemaker, passes a case of tempting pastries at the cafe in the Jerusalem Theater, and is flattered when I tell him that none of them look half as good as the black forest cake that is a key part of his movie.
Graizer, who lives in Berlin, is back in his native Israel to promote the movie, which combines his passions for Jerusalem and baking in a drama of love, loss and betrayal. The movie, which is in theaters now throughout Israel, has won awards all over the world, including the Lia van Leer Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival last summer.
It tells the story of Oren (Roy Miller), an Israeli man who goes to Berlin for work and falls in love with a young man, Thomas (Tim Kalkhof), who works in a bakery – and who makes the most appetizing-looking black forest cake ever photographed. But Oren has a wife, Anat (Sarah Adler), and child in Jerusalem who know nothing about his secret life in Berlin. After Oren is killed in an accident, Thomas comes to Jerusalem and gets a job in the cafe that Anat runs. It’s winter and Thomas warms up the cafe by baking the cakes that Oren loved, which revitalize Anat’s business. Meanwhile he and Anat develop a close but unpredictable and unconventional relationship.
It’s an unusual story and Graizer is an unusual director. He grew up in Ra’anana, the son of two accountants, a father of Polish descent who was from a religious family and a Greek-Italian-Bulgarian mother, who was secular. He grew up on early Spielberg films, horror movies and Fellini classics. Graizer studied film at Sapir College in Sderot and he was something of a wunderkind there: a short film he made his first year, Prayer in January
, and his graduation film, Dor
, were shown at festivals around the world and won many prizes. His 2015 short film La Discotheque
premiered at Cannes in the Director’s Fortnight.
For years he has divided his time between Israel (usually Jerusalem) and Berlin, where he lives with his husband and teaches cooking when he’s not working on movies.
The idea for The Cakemaker
, his first feature film, came to him when he heard that someone he knew, who had a wife and three children, “was having affairs with men, and nobody knew about it. She didn’t find out about it until he died, and I got the idea to make a film about this. I thought about this woman, she has to mourn, but you can’t really mourn if you have to be angry at the same time... I thought of the perspective of the lover, too. He has a different kind of grief. I thought, I’ll put them in the kitchen together and see what happens.”
The image of Thomas “baking alone at night, the magical act of baking which can have so many meanings,” was especially evocative.
The presence of a German in a Jerusalem restaurant kitchen brings out all kinds of conflicts, notably on the religious front, as Oren’s brother-in-law (Zohar Shtrauss), who is religious, worries that the cafe’s kosher certification will be revoked if Thomas bakes there.
In spite of all the tensions in Jerusalem, Graizer loves this city.
“It’s my favorite city in the country... The way I experience the diversity, complexity and tension of the city is like a family gathering.”
As someone who loves food and cooking, Jerusalem “is the best place to cook and eat. There is an amazing variety of ingredients and a thousand different cultures. In Mahane Yehuda, you’ve got everything.”
It was his dream to make a film set in Jerusalem, but realizing his vision took him on a long journey. The Jerusalem Film Fund was the first to give him financing, but many other organizations and film funds initially turned him down. Undeterred, he starting filming with the film only partly financed, shooting as many as eight scenes a day. But the pace enhanced the film. “We had to shoot so fast, it added to the tension of Thomas’ character... this was the reality. You take this German guy, you throw him in Jerusalem, you throw him in the kitchen, and he has to work.”
Eventually, other funding came through, and he was able to finish the film.
The Cakemaker will be opening in the Czech Republic, the US, Canada, Korea, Chile, Taiwan and Uruguay, among other places, and Graizer can’t help but notice the irony: “When I was looking for financing, nobody wanted to fund it, and now that it’s finished, everyone wants it.”