On paper, the storyline to The Cakemaker sounds every bit as elegantly twisted as The Talented Mr Ripley, as a German baker integrates himself in to the life of his deceased lover’s wife in Jerusalem, building a deep connection with her while never disclosing the truth about his relationship with her other half. The difference with director Ofir Raul Grazier’s film is that the drama never once threatens to become a twisty, Hitchcockian thriller. Instead, there is an earnest, emotional truth to the characters and their relationships – which is plain to see in their faces, even when secrets are being hidden.
Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) is in the midst of a year long affair with Oren (Roy Miller), an Israeli businessman who makes regular visits to Berlin and lives at Thomas’ apartment whenever he’s in town. Upon returning to his family one day, he is killed in a car crash – leading Thomas to make the unexpected decision to travel to meet Oren’s wife Anat (Sarah Adler) and young son over in Jerusalem, where she runs a cafe. He asks for employment and is initially hired to do the cleaning, but after tasting his baking, is eventually hired to start making cakes- an arrangement which causes some problems, due to the bakery’s kosher status, and his lack of religion.
Despite dealing with the fallout from the unexpected end of two separate relationships, The Cakemaker deals with its themes in an emotionally subtle manner. This is all thanks to the twin strengths of Kalkhof and Adler’s lead performances, which both manage to be physically expressive at showing how they feel in an alien environment; in Thomas’ case, cosily applying himself in to the life of his lover’s family in a different country, and in Anat’s case, the feeling of starting to rely on the kindness of a stranger following her husband’s passing. There is an element of distrust on Anat’s side, due to Thomas’ blank, close to wordless reactions when she talks about her husband- but it’s handled in a manner that feels believable, despite the incredibly melodramatic conceit.
The film is incredibly thoughtful as it displays the most emotionally extreme behaviour people in desperate romantic situations will act out, making the character of Thomas so empathetic, you never question why he would move to Jerusalem despite rarely seeing his lover during his lifetime. It’s the type of scenario you’d expect from a thriller (hence the earlier Talented Mr Ripley comparison), yet is handled in a delicate, thought provoking manner, which never cheapens the grief either lead character is feeling for their lost love.
Director Ofir Raul Grazier also manages to illustrate the culture clash between Thomas and his new environment through food porn (yes, really). Your mouth will water as you see the delicacies he serves up in the kitchen, even though very little of what he makes is suitable for sale in an Israeli cafe, due to not having kosher status. In a movie so concerned with the emotions of its characters, the little details about working in an unfamiliar culture help ensure the movie feels tangible outside the central storyline.
There may be more emotionally direct LGBT movies playing at this year’s BFI London Film Festival, but the subtle power of The Cakemaker helps it stand out from the pack. Harnessing an emotional truth, even when the narrative sounds so far fetched on paper, this is a drama worth seeking out.