Drool-worthy confectionery expresses unspoken emotions in “The Cakemaker,” the first feature from the writer and director Ofir Raul Graizer and a master class in exquisite restraint.
Beginning as one thing and ending as quite another, this softly lighted melodrama follows Thomas (Tim Kalkhof), a reserved German pastry chef with a cozy cafe in Berlin and a handsome Israeli lover, Oren (Roy Miller). Once a month or so, Oren arrives in Berlin for business — and a generous slice of Black Forest gâteau — leaving a wife, Anat (Sarah Adler), and young son back in Jerusalem.
When Oren dies suddenly between visits, Thomas, obeying some primal instinct and with no clear purpose, immediately travels to Jerusalem. Concealing his identity, he takes a part-time job in the small cafe run by Oren’s weary young widow, so impressing her and her customers with his piping skills that he soon becomes a fixture.
This doesn’t sit well with Moti (Zohar Strauss), Anat’s Orthodox brother-in-law, whose disapproval of the lonely gentile in their midst subtly pokes at historical animus. Yet social and religious undercurrents remain mostly muted; and while Moti might be worried about the newcomer’s effect on the cafe’s kosher certification, he’s also kind enough to ensure that Thomas doesn’t eat Shabbat supper alone.
Relying on warm intuition over cold logic, “The Cakemaker” can at times seem almost detached from reality, its characters mere symbols in a delicate fable about the fluidity of attachment and the permeability of boundaries. Thomas’ gentle diffidence, and his director’s fiercely rigorous style, leave his motives denser than unproved sourdough. With no back story or visible friends or family, he’s a smooth-skinned enigma whose soft, cushiony physicality anchors the movie’s tactile preoccupations. Is he seeking a companion in sorrow or an immersion in a life that was always kept hidden? He isn’t saying, but his kind eyes and busily kneading hands are somehow eloquence enough.
Sad and sweet, and with a rare lyricism, “The Cakemaker” believes in a love that neither nationality, sexual orientation nor religious belief can deter. Some may find its reticence off-putting or even irritating, but at heart it’s just a tender love triangle with a ghost in the middle. And a mouthwatering abundance of crème fraîche.
Starring Tim Kalkhof, Sarah Adler and Zohar Shtrauss. Directed by Ofir Raul Graizer.
Unrated. In Hebrew, German and English, with English subtitles. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour 44 minutes.
Bottom line: Sad and sweet film that has a rare lyricism