JIFF Review: The Cakemaker

Food porn, romance, cultural clashes and a generous dollop of tragedy are expertly blended and baked into an irresistible triangle of love in German/Israeli drama The Cakemaker.  The result should go down a treat with festival goers and a successful theatrical life seems assured. 

The titular baker is Tomas (Tim Kalkhof), is a 20-something German man working in his own cafe in Berlin. He has a loyal patron in Oren (Roy Miller), an Israeli man who makes regular trips to Berlin on business.

Oren is married with a 6-year old son, but that doesn’t stop him from brazenly making a play for Tomas. In no time the two have a regular thing going on, with Oren’s monthly trips to Germany being spent with Tomas.

When Oren’s visits abruptly stop, Tomas approaches Oren’s workplace and finds that his Israeli lover has been killed.

Completely stunned by the news, he decides to go to Jerusalem and find out more about the man he loved. He visits the cafe of Oren’s wife Anat (Sarah Adler) and slowly becomes a part of her world, without her knowing his identity.

Keeping his cards close to his chest, and with little knowledge of the customs of the kosher community he’s suddenly immersed in, Tomas is nevertheless drawn to learning more about Oren’s world, including his wife, his son and his mother.

The plot has a familiar kind of soap opera quality to it, but it’s played with subtlety. Kalkhof’s Tomas is a blank canvas for much of the time. We watch him slip into Oren’s shoes – literally. He has a set of keys that Oren left in Berlin which open a locker in a Jerusalem swimming centre, allowing Tomas to put on Oren’s speedos and thongs and experience another aspect of Oren’s life.

Throughout the film, as the title suggests, food plays an important role. Tomas uses his baking skills to ingratiate himself onto Anat, there are lots of loving shots of black forest cake being prepared and eaten, along with other sweet treats, although these offerings are one of the many potential signposts that threaten to reveal Tomas’ identity, given Oren used to bring some of Tomas’ signature baked goods back home to his family.

There are some irresistible ingredients in Israeli writer/director Ofir Raul Graizer’s film, the slowly unfolding of identities of the three main characters, the secrets they hide from each other, the contrast of cultures, the seductions, both carnal and culinary, and the underlying grief that the two main characters share, unknowingly in the case of Anat.

The story goes in some interesting directions as it draws closer to its conclusion. It wisely avoids histrionics and cliches and offers something which carries more resonance.

Omri Aloni’s cinematography favours golden hues and natural light, especially in the many baking scenes, and Dominique Charpentier’s piano score is as delicate as the film’s direction.

The Cakemaker has received prizes and standing ovations at film festivals around the world and is sure to be one of the favourites at this year’s Jewish International Film Festival.    The film is in English, Hebrew and German although it’s easy to imagine a Hollywood studio transplanting the story and doing a fully English language remake.  

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The Cakemaker is currently screening at the Jewish International Film Festival

Richard Leathem @dickiegee