‘The Cakemaker’ reviewed

A love triangle set in Jerusalem and Berlin fuels a poignant examination of culture and sexuality…

Israeli travelling businessman Oren (Roy Miller) is a regular customer at a Berlin bakery, purportedly because of the quality of young Thomas’ (Tim Kalkhof) cakes and biscuits. Oren asks Thomas for advice on where to find a birthday present for his six-year-old son, and Thomas agrees to take him to an artisan toy shop he knows. Cut to the bedroom – Oren is obviously a fast mover…

The pair settle into a routine, with Oren staying at Thomas’ apartment on his frequent business trips to Berlin. You get the feeling that Thomas is more committed to the relationship, jealously quizzing Oren about his sex life with his wife at home in Jerusalem. When not toplessly kneading dough, Thomas gazes moonily at the less engaged Oren, and when Oren stops answering his phone, our first thought is that he’s grown tired of their arrangement. Has Thomas been ghosted?

Yes, but only in the sense that Oren has died in a car accident, so he’s not really to blame. The news hits Thomas hard, and he forlornly sets off to Jerusalem to find Oren’s widow Anat (Sarah Adler). Anat runs a café where Thomas gets himself a menial job in the kitchen, impresses with his cookie recipe and forms a bond with Oren and Anat’s troubled son Itai.

Before long, Anat’s café is doing a roaring trade in Thomas’ cakes, and a friendship is coalescing in these unusual circumstances. Cut to the bedroom…

The juxtapositions between the two affairs are sensitively put together, encouraging comparison but without prurience or judgement. It’s made clear that Anat seduces a surprised Thomas, but that he yields willingly to her once his confusion has passed. But is he morally compromised by having concealed his history with Oren?

Ofir Raul Graizer’s film proceeds at a measured pace just the right side of art-house. There are numerous dialogue-free scenes that create effective windows into the characters’ lives, such as Thomas surreptitiously eying up an Israeli soldier, and a remarkable moment just after Anat has taken Thomas to bed when she simply laughs at her situation, alone and releasing her joy and bewilderment.

One of the film’s most interesting aspects is its representation of different degrees of Jewishness. Thomas is a goyem out of water, negotiating a tricky path between unorthodox Anat and her much more observant family and in-laws. At first Thomas is regarded with deep suspicion as a non-Jew (and a German, to boot) but he slowly achieves a degree of assimilation as they begin to trust him and feel obliged to show him hospitality.

The inevitable reveal of Thomas’ true identity is exactly the emotional bombshell you’d expect, but this is far too skilful a movie to resort to histrionics. It’s a subtle but highly engaging study of love and grief, and although the truth blows apart Thomas and Anat’s budding relationship, a final return to Berlin hints at a hopeful future…

❉ ‘The Cakemaker’ (2017) is available on DVD and On Demand from Peccadillo Pictures (In German/Hebrew/English with English subtitles), Running Time: 113 mins.

❉  A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Nick Myles is a London-based writer and director. His stage plays have been produced at numerous London theatres, and at both the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe Festivals. He has also contributed to Big Finish’s range of Dark Shadows audio plays. Twitter: Nick Myles

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