When you arrive on film director Ofir Raul Graizer’s personal website, you find a tab about food. Not only does he make films, but he also offers cooking classes in Berlin on a regular basis! That may explain why he chose cooking and baking as an essential supporting element to The Cakemaker, First Feature Competition at London Film Festival 2017. I am certainly not complaining – some of those shots of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte and German cookies as well as stuffed aubergine were a treat for the eyes and the filmmaker teased us just the right amount with long takes of people savouring food.
The story is about Tomas (Tim Kalkhof), a highly talented baker who works in Berlin and who is visited one day by Oren (Roy Miller), a man from Jerusalem who always likes to visit Tomas’ bakery before going home to his wife and son after his business trips. The two men start an affair which lasts only a few days every few months. One day after a year of this distance relationship, Oren is killed in a car accident in Jerusalem. Tomas hears of this through Oren’s employer and decides to travel to Jerusalem to… why exactly? We suddenly find him roaming the streets of the historical city and following Oren’s wife Anat (Sarah Adler). Soon enough, he’s working as a baker in her café and seems to fall deeper and deeper into a seemingly innocent friendship all the while holding on to the last connection he has to Oren.
This picture takes place in the winter, with grey and blue colours characterising Berlin and beige and burgundy very present in Jerusalem. The tone of the image may feel cold, but it is the characters’ difficult emotions and the warmth of Anat’s café that tickle our hearts in the midst of this tragic story: two people who do not know each other have lost the same person. Tomas, who once told Oren that he doesn’t feel alone (he is happy with his flat and his bakery), does not chat a lot and seems to like to keep to himself. Anat, who is surrounded by family, notably a controlling brother giving her a hard time about kosher laws, finds new comfort and a long sought friend in Tomas. Therefore we can’t even imagine how disastrous it will feel for her when she finds out the truth. Here, I believe the lying is worse than the cheating in itself.
Kalkhof as Tomas remains quiet and focused but warm. What he needs is a hug, but no one can really give that to him. Towards the end of the film, Oren’s mother invites him into her son’s room, perhaps sensing that the two men are connected in a way no one else can see. There is a magical moment of her touching his cheek, a physical closeness based in truth which no one has given him for months. Adler as Anat represents warmth and family, and is a fighter for her newly opened café, burying herself in her work perhaps as a defence mechanism.
This type of story where identities are hidden has often been seen on film, but director Graizer makes us forget that by showing us much more of the individuals’ emotions than any kind of useless humour or “uh oh he’s lying!”. He goes straight to the pain underlying the connection between Tomas and Anat. This pain is shown in long shots, particularly when Tomas wears Oren’s swimsuit at the swimming pool and the palpable despair in the air when Anat seduces Tomas. I enjoyed the length of those moments, which had me gripped every single second. As Tomas tells Anat, the dough needs to get warm to be flattened, and that takes time.
I recommend this film about the lengths we are willing to go, physically and emotionally, for love, how difficult it can sometimes be to just tell the truth, and how in times of pain strangers can represent comfort.