What stands out in Israel’s entry to the 91st Academy Awards, The Cakemaker (האופה מברלין), are the subtexts. Well, some of them might not even be intentional as they knit perfectly in a story that is simple and intriguing to equal proportions. To give you a quick picture, the film follows German pastry chef Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) who moves to Jerusalem post his Israeli boyfriend Oren’s (Roy Miller) untimely death and finds employment in his wife Anat’s (Sarah Adler) newly launched café. In a carefully staged scene in the café’s kosher kitchen, Thomas shows Anat how to knead the dough. While her delicate hands barely match the magic of Thomas’s robust handling of the flour, the young baker adds, “You just need to know how to treat the yeast!” This might as well sum up the equation that binds them – Thomas, Anat, and her husband. The house and the conservative Israeli café were legally her belongings but it took a German gentleman to sprinkle magic into the lives of its inhabitants.
Abundant with enchanting still frames, The Cakemaker is one film that confidently lets the camera make love to its actors’ ability to emote. Not many in times in the recent past did a film’s use of long close-up shots attracted me as much. Thomas, played with great restraint by Kalkhof, in particular, is given fewer lines and there is also a language barrier that exists between him and the rest of the characters. His silences and evocative blue eyes convey a lot that the film wants us to feel. From what begins as a slightly disjointed love story of two men, The Cakemaker unfolds in a slow and steady fashion. One with lesser room for surprises from a viewer’s point of view, debutant director Ofir Raul Graizer stages crucial plot twists only at the right intervals.
We also need to applaud Graizer’s dexterity in structuring the flow of events in the film. He does not choose to bombard us with excess background information. The Cakemaker chooses to say only what we are supposed to know even when it comes to the romantic liaisons it talks about. There are minute details left in the production design, the establishing and connecting shots among other elements that are worthy of a thought or two. Plus, there’s so much that we can infer from Thomas’s interactions with some of the peripheral players be it Anat’s son and the mother who visits the café.
Talking singularly about the primary crux of The Cakemaker, there are enough hints that could have made Anat discover the truth about Thomas way earlier in the film. Yet the screenplay skillfully delays the final expose leaving scope for the character psyches to evolve. The portions where Anat and Thomas become close, alternated with moments of intimacy between him and Oren are amongst many that are powerfully conceived and acted. The mood of The Cakemaker is part gloomy and is set to music by Dominique Charpentier’s terrific original score which makes use of the piano to marvelous impact.
The Cakemaker also happens to be a food film with some mouth-watering patisserie becoming key elements in shaping up the plot. Additionally, Graizer’s character designs are noteworthy while subliminally underlining the politics of his characters and also their ethnic identities. We empathize with each of them for their values, judgments, and reservations. It is heartbreaking when an otherwise reticent Thomas quizzes Anat about her husband’s death. The same can be said about the long close-up shot towards the finale where she laughs and eventually breaks into tears.
Ofir Raul Graizer’s directorial debut, therefore, is spectacular proof that a love story need not be verbal to leave a heavy lump in our throats. The climax, which is gloriously melodramatic, conveys the kind of grief that sets the film light years ahead of recent films that handle complicated romantic relationships. The air of empathy that engulfs Graizer’s method of writing and storytelling is just the kind that we desire to relish more in contemporary art. Welcome to the movies, Graizer!