From poisoned apples in fairytales to raunchy kinks in adult-oriented fare, food has long served as a plot device throughout film history. That tradition continues with “The Cakemaker,” a cross-cultural drama directed by Ophir Raul Graizer. In this delicate drama, the power of food creates an unlikely love triangle that transcends borders.
Set in Germany and Israel, “The Cakemaker” follows the experiences of a young baker named Thomas (Tim Kalkhof). Due to his culinary talents, he has attracted loyal patrons both locally and abroad. Chief among them is an Israeli man named Oren (Roy Miller) who visits frequently for business. Over time, the two form a friendship that blossoms into love, despite Oren having a wife and son back in Israel. But just as the pair become increasingly comfortable in their secret arrangement, an unfortunate tragedy strikes. Oren is killed in a car accident, leaving Thomas devastated and lost. With his life turned upside down, he decides to travel to Israel to meet the family with whom he shares this unusual connection.
The metaphorical elephant in the room of Oren’s affair hangs in the air as Thomas introduces himself to Oren’s wife Anat (Sarah Adler) and eventually takes up a job in her own cafe. But while the premise may call for salacious melodrama, both the direction and the lead performances show unexpected restraint. Although Thomas’ German heritage causes religious tensions with other characters, the interactions between Thomas and Anat are filled with a subtle curiosity. Notably, Tim Kalkhof’s standout performance seems cold at first, but it gradually proves to be expertly judged, revealing an impressive depth of feeling.
While the dialogue is sparse at times, “The Cakemaker” conveys a wealth of emotions through one of humanity’s greatest modes of expression — the communal experience of food. Indeed, Graizer astutely uses small gestures to communicate the relationships between the characters. Whether it’s the unwitting seduction caused by Thomas’ scrumptious desserts, the companionship created from cooking together, or a symbolic token of friendship of a home-cooked meal during Shabbat, these seemingly mundane actions speak loud and clear. Though religion and sexuality threaten to divide them, Graizer beautifully posits a culinary language that defies the characters’ differences.
As a result of this emphasis on these food-related aspects of the narrative, the central romantic conflict admittedly turns out to be half-baked. Indeed, the film ultimately plays it safe with regards to the subversive eroticism bubbling under the surface. Rather than experimenting with a tantalizing new cinematic recipe, “The Cakemaker” is more like comfort food. It’s a warm, empathetic and satisfying story.