I’m not alone.
A romantic drama wielding nationality, sexuality, and religion as crucial dramatic themes without giving into their rigidity atop a backdrop of delicious baked goods sounds more than ambitious—it sounds foolhardy. But writer/director Ofir Raul Graizer set out and accomplished exactly that with his acclaimed Der Kuchenmacher [The Cakemaker]. He travels between a quaint Berlin bakery to a strictly kosher Jerusalem neighborhood atop the shoulders of a man lost in love and feeling happier than his wildest dreams. Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) didn’t crave family or the desire for someone in his arms to not be alone. He was content with his work and his life before Oren (Roy Miller) walked into it with the potential to prove him wrong. Sometimes you can’t know what’s missing until its arrival.
Unfortunately their relationship was built on a foundation forever threatening to crack beneath their feet. Thomas was entrenched in Germany having grown up a few miles outside the city and owning his flourishing business there. Oren was simply visiting a few days each month for work, his home, wife (Sarah Adler‘s Anat), and son (Tamir Ben Yehuda‘s Itai) back in Israel. But they found each other nonetheless and made the most of their limited time together. Who knows what might have happened had they been given more? Maybe Oren would’ve embraced his identity with Thomas as equal to that of faith and fatherhood. Or maybe he would have realized it was all a distraction that needed to cease. Thomas can’t help wondering once answers are no longer possible.
Learning of Oren’s death, however, provides him a beginning rather than end. Where most tales of love use this sort of tragic drama as climax, Graizer uses it to segue between acts. The first was about Oren’s travels to Germany and the second would be Thomas’ journey to Jerusalem. But his baker can’t simply find Anat and talk to her about how much he misses her husband—a stranger and home-wrecker that’d probably do more damage than good. So he spies upon her café from a distance, entering with trepidation before awkwardly asking if she’s hiring help. In order to reclaim the piece of his heart that he lost, Thomas injects himself into Anat’s life until he becomes a large part of her success. His life becomes redefined.
Not only that, Thomas begins redefining the lives of Oren’s community. Israel’s history with Germany is of course one ravaged by pain and suffering, so the notion of a German working at a kosher café is not lost on them. Oren’s brother Motti (Zohar Shtrauss) is keenly aware of what it means too—not only abstractly, but also with the longevity of his sister-in-law’s business. Earning a kosher certificate isn’t something you write off and there are rules to retaining one that forbid a non-Jewish employee from using certain parts of the kitchen. Only quality could cajole someone to turn paranoid caution into easy acceptance. If the cookies and cakes are worth forgiving their recipes’ “checkered” lineage, than trusting Anat will keep things kosher is an implicit byproduct.
It’s this hypocrisy laid bare that The Cakemaker fearlessly lets shine as a means to embolden rather than shame. The taste of Thomas’ food allows Anat to remember she doesn’t care about the part of Judaism that dictates her diet. When his presence in her café earns financial success not yet seen in the café, Motti pushes his prejudices aside to find Thomas an apartment and invite him to Shabbat. And when Anat shows affection towards this stranger who walked into her life, Thomas discovers how love transcends gender. He yearns for the feeling Oren instilled within him. He craves that sense of belonging. And more than clothes or environment, Anat reminds him of that love. Being with her is the closest to Oren he can ever hope to get.
This isn’t a fantasy, though. Graizer isn’t pretending they can wipe away their intrinsic prejudices and live happily ever after. The affair between Thomas and Oren hangs above everything. The lie that the former’s being in Anat’s home creates stokes a fire of what’s anticipated to be an emotional confrontation once the truth is revealed. Because it will be discovered. Anat isn’t stupid and she begins putting the pieces together early—some of them at least. There are so many layers to the relationships formed here that a character’s inclination towards uncovering a secret is never complete. One secret hides another until those on both sides find themselves assuming very different hypotheses. And the anguish of those devastating half-truths could reveal the answers death didn’t erase after all.
It’s a powerful glimpse at historical and philosophical incongruities with characters trying to co-exist in two separate worlds without fully comprehending what that means to their own well-being let alone those caught along their path. Thomas cannot be blamed for his insecurities or longing, but that’s not to say we can condone his deceit when it ensures the innocents within this story will suffer more due to this added betrayal atop Oren’s. And the potential damage his true identity provides only increases after Anat so forcefully and willingly sticks her neck out to help him carve a place for himself within a society so historically against everything the intrinsic parts of who he is (that he was born into) conjure. Can love prevail over dishonesty? Forgiveness over hatred?
Rather than become an over-the-top melodrama, The Cakemaker asks profound questions about the complexity of human nature, empathy, and our value beyond archaic doctrines that serve to separate more than unite. It offers two unforgettably complex leads struggling to find their worth in the wake of devastating news that inexplicably find themselves able to help steady the other despite their unknown roles in shattering the other’s foundation in the first place. Graizer can therefore authentically touch upon the myriad taboos projecting adversity upon them because they’re more or less the same beneath it all. The performances Kalkhof and Adler draw within that truth prove equally inspirational as devastating. And as so much external noise tries dividing them, it’s food’s great unifier that silences their minds to amplify their souls.
courtesy of Strand Releasing