Starring Tim Kalkhof. In English, German, and Hebrew, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
Can a relationship be based on lies, lust, and apple strudel? According to this tenderly constructed new movie, that depends on the quality of the baking.
A first feature for writer-director Ofir Raul Grazier, born in Israel and based in Germany, The Cakemaker concentrates on kitchen as portal to the hearts of men and women, regardless of religion, geography, or gender roles. It begins when a suave Israeli called Oren (Roy Miller) wanders into a Berlin café and is struck by the quality of its pastries, and then by their maker, the taciturn Thomas (Tim Kalkhof). Oren finishes off his dessert with another afternoon delight. And pretty soon he’s staying at Thomas’s place on frequent business trips to the German capital.
The man is married and has a little boy back in Jerusalem, so there’s that. But then Oren suddenly disappears from the story (in the first few minutes) and the baker decides to investigate the life he left behind. The dude must have really loved cafés, because his wife, Anat (Foxtrot’s excellent Sarah Adler), runs one too. We don’t know why she hires a non-Hebrew-speaking German as a dishwasher for her failing enterprise (would that even be legal?), but of course it’s not long before his baking skills, if not his own story, are exposed.
Thomas’s creations soon make the place a hit. Well, with everyone but Anat’s Orthodox brother-in-law (don’t mess with Zohar Shtrauss), who knows something’s not kosher. Literally. Anat isn’t herself that observant; indeed, it takes a while for her to spot obvious evidence that the newcomer has some history with her late husband. Anyway, a combination of grief, curiosity, and the fact that Thomas bonds so well with other family members eventually has her swooning like Demi Moore in Ghost—only with a living, highly ambiguous figure in the Patrick Swayze part.
The movie is good at (very) slowly turning up the heat, but a lot of it comes out half-baked. Even aside from logical questions left unanswered, it doesn’t really explore issues raised by the notion of an imposter taking someone’s place, or of the connections between religious strictures and those placed on sexual identity. Perhaps this is because Thomas’s character, who never explores Jerusalem outside of this one Jewish enclave, is passive to the point of being almost absent himself—an effect heightened by Kalkhof and Adler both sounding more stilted in English, the characters’ only language in common. The Cakemaker is very tasteful indeed, but does it satisfy?