A sweet but sad ‘Cakemaker’

Set in Jerusalem, the film has delicate and delectable elements.

A scene from 'The Cakemaker' (photo credit: Courtesy)
A scene from 'The Cakemaker'
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ofir Raul Graizer’s The Cakemaker is an atmospheric, lyrical film that is infused with the sensuality of baking and the loneliness of being a stranger in wintry Jerusalem. It tells a twist-filled story about love and loss that will resonate with audiences because of its carefully observed characters and sense of place.
One warning about this movie: The cakes and cookies on display look so appetizing, I don’t think there is any way to see it without craving the sweets you see on screen, so dieters should be warned. A candy bar or supermarket cookies won’t do the trick after you see The Cakemaker — you’ll want something as beautiful and elaborate as the desserts photographed so lovingly in the movie. The cakes and pastries should have their own credits.
It starts out in Berlin, where Oren (Roy Miller), an Israeli who travels there regularly for work, strolls into a bakery. He enjoys the Black Forest cake he eats there, and he is equally interested in the handsome young man, Thomas (Tim Kalkhof ), who baked it. Soon the two are having a love affair, and Oren even lives with Thomas when he is in Germany. But this love affair is not ideal for Thomas because Oren admits that he has a wife and child in Israel and that he will never leave them.
One day, Oren doesn’t show up when Thomas expects him. Thomas calls and calls, but there is no answer. Emboldened by worry, he goes to the corporation where Oren worked and is told that his lover was killed in a car accident in Israel. Feeling lost, he flies to Jerusalem and simply shows up at the café run by Oren’s widow, Anat (Sarah Adler). Without telling her he knew her late husband, he talks his way into a menial job, and soon he is baking up a storm. His creations revitalize her café, but she begins to have questions about the baker, especially when he serves her the distinctive cinnamon cookies that Oren used to bring home to her from Berlin.
Is he there to confront Anat and tell her about Oren’s other life? There is suspense about this possibility, and it also seems that she might figure it out on her own, based on clues Oren has left scattered behind him, like breadcrumbs, or rather, cake crumbs. It becomes clear that the main reason Thomas is in Jerusalem and in her life is that he can’t stay away.
As their relationship develops, Thomas’s presence brings all kinds of conflicts in Anat’s life to the surface. As a gentile in Israel, he is regarded with suspicion by her religious brother-in-law, who cautions that the café will lose its kashrut certificate if bakes there. But Thomas has no plans to leave.
The story unfolds over a few weeks during the winter, and rarely has a movie captured the side-byside beauty and gloom of a Jerusalem winter so well. The warmth of the café kitchen is contrasted with the chilliness of the characters’ apartments, and the director clearly knows all too well how cold under-heated Jerusalem apartments get.
There is an interesting contrast as well between the two loves of Oren’s life. The slightly plump Thomas excels in the kitchen, traditionally a female domain, while the slender Anat is a flop as a cook, and her no-nonsense style might strike some as a bit masculine. The specter of the very attractive Oren, who was loved so much but who behaved so carelessly toward those he loved, haunts the movie.
It isn’t always clear where the movie is going, and some may find it arrives at its destination too slowly. But those with the patience to enjoy it will revel in the excellent, nuanced performances by Kalkhof and Adler, whose work highlights the unpredictability of the arc of the characters’ grief and the difficulty of ever truly knowing another person.
Graizer’s feature film debut is impressive and thoughtful, combining many ingredients in a mournful story that is full of sweetness but never turns saccharine.