Ofir Raul Graizer’s debut Israeli-German film, The Cakemaker, opens with the joyous delight of consuming a beautifully crafted slice of black forest gateau.
Perfectly moist, soft to the touch of a fork tine and garnished with a glaring luminescent cherry - and if I were a judge on a reality-bakery show- perhaps, possessing an overly lavish sponge-to-cream ratio. Nevertheless, it appears to be good eating, as Orun (Roy Miller) ravenously devours it in mere seconds.
Orun is a man leading a double life with little time to spare. His work takes him back and forth from Jerusalem, where his wife and six-year-old boy reside, to Berlin – the hometown of his lover, Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) – a skilled baker, who makes exceedingly good cakes. It is not long before this duplicitous existence is disturbed and Thomas finds himself in Jerusalem, reconciling his feelings and making a pilgrimage to Orun’s second reality.
Graizer gently warms us to the quiet grief
Graizer, as writer/director, has all the components for a centrepiece. His script covers a gamut of emotion, frequently embodied in the simple act of bakery. Throughout The Cakemaker, he nourishes his characters by involving food in key scenarios, whether it’s the communal dining on the eve of the Shabbat (Saturday, the Jewish holy day), or an intimate meal being prepared, there never seems to be an escape from the basic need to consume, and thus, exist.
Over the course of the film, Graizer gently warms us to the quiet grief on Thomas’ forlorn face, following his footsteps, accompanied by a calculating selfishness, in an attempt to reconcile his feelings - never once dropping his stoic expression – even at the expense of others who, too, are seeking closure.
Captured by cinematographer, Omri Aloni, who deftly lenses the film with the clean-cut sterility of Asghar Faradhi’s (The Past, A Separation) stripped-bare social dramas. If you find your stomach rumbling mid-way through, it is a testament to the scattered ‘food porn’ sequences of Thomas expertly kneading dough as he assembles his bespoke creations, a step not too removed from David Gelb’s documentary food odyssey, Jiro Dreams Of Sushi (2011) and Netflix series Chef’s Table.
For most part, The Cakemaker takes you into its world. Kalkhof’s central performance is brilliantly po-faced throughout, so too are the subsidiary characters – especially that of Zohar Strauss’ religious do-gooder, Moti and, the sagely Sandra Sade as Orun’s mother. Graizer’s film is not without humour either; a darkly comic reference to the holocaust is used throughout which adds a touch of levity to the uber-serious proceedings.
However, the sticking point emerges when Graizer vastly underestimates his characters' intelligence to piece together palpable evidence, along with the painfully clunky plot contrivances (what a coincidence a baker from Berlin has turned up in my Jerusalem café). Subsequently, he uses their obliviousness as a major revelation late-on, making everyone seem as thick as the cream on his gateaux – no one more so than the stupefied audience.
As with any good cake, the ingredients are all there. The Cakemaker is an artisanal assembly of infidelity, closeted knowledge and achingly poignant intimacy in desperate times, replete with.a shimmering glaze And yet, Graizer’s innocuous misstep undercuts the goodness he has infused into a picture-perfect slice, and after consumption, it all tastes deceptively flat.