By Noah McCarthy
Director: Ofir Raul Grazier. Starring: Tim Kalkhof, Sarah Adler, Zohar Shtrauss, Roy Miller, Sandra Sade
The debut of writer/director Ofir Raul Grazier is a success, as The Cakemaker manages to evoke emotion far beyond its seemingly flimsy premise. The movie opens in Berlin, where a baker, Thomas ( Tim Kalkhof ), shares a joke with Israeli businessman Oren ( Roy Miller ). Some furtive glances and a slice of Thomas' black forest cake later, the two kiss. Eventually, it is revealed that Oren has a wife back in Israel.
Following their bakery meet cute, the pair fall in love and begin counting down the weeks until they can be together again. Unlike a usual synopsis, this almost represents the pace at which the film speeds through its first scenes. Just as quickly as they fall in love, Oren is killed in an accident. Thomas moves to Israel and gets a job at the cafe that Oren's wife, Anat ( Sarah Adler ), owns. This seems the act of a deeply disturbed man, but other moments provide emotional context and humanity.
Despite the somewhat ludicrous setup, this is not a rom-com. The jokes aren't funny; at least, they don't aim to elicit belly laughs from the audience. Within their world however, these characters portray a charm and wit which carries the movie through its runtime.
Also, despite this seeming like a movie with the time-honored plot of gay man falls in love, must cheat to assuage his passion and, ultimately, has his heart broken by death because gay people can't have nice things, I would recommend seeing the movie and reconsidering.
From Oren's arrival at Anat's cafe and beyond, Grazier knew which tropes to indulge and which to avoid. Where a typical movie might be content just splitting the lovers, The Cakemaker digs the knife in deeper. The treatment of the German-Israeli relationship is likewise relevant and nuanced. The result of Grazier's thematic choices is a march of events which, though they might initially repulse, take on a deeply affecting meaning. The plot is concerned less with love than the myriad self-destructive, disgusting things we are capable of when love leaves.
Despite this, The Cakemaker never becomes dour, floating delicately atop the subtle performances given by Tim Kalkhof and Sarah Adler. Ugly crying has never looked so good. Certain moments lean a little too melodramatic for the otherwise subtle movie; one shot of Oren walking away in the rain comes to mind. In general though, The Cakemaker asks that you infer meaning from glances, that you read the emotion between the lines.
This makes the effect of the film's final act utterly devastating, as the plot threads are pulled together into an unavoidable conclusion. Unfortunately, this also mean that shots must linger and moments occasionally become extended. The pacing suffers slightly as a result, particularly in the mid-second act where certain scenes seem redundant. Altogether, the movie is a wonderfully crafted slow burn whose final moments are absolutely haunting.
Avoid spoiling for yourself what comes after the initial romance. I would recommend avoiding the trailer, and any online synopsis, as the effect of certain moments even slightly into the runtime are greatly diminished by foresight.
The Cakemaker smartly moves beyond the generic expectations of a gay romance, and instead offers an insightful account of grief and loneliness. Its payoff is more than worth the price of admission.
The Cakemaker has already won numerous international awards. It opens in Chicago on Friday, June 13, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.