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    Absorbing New Drama The Cakemaker Connects Food to Love and Coping After Loss

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Out gay writer-director Ofir Raul Graizer’s gentle, absorbing drama, The Cakemaker, opens July 20 at the Landmark Theaters in San Francisco and Berkeley. It begins with businessman Oren (Roy Miller), a married father from Israel, frequenting the café in Germany where Tomas (Tim Kalkhof) works and bakes. The two men initiate a passionate tryst that ends unexpectedly, when Oren is killed in a car accident. This tragedy prompts Tomas to travel to Jerusalem to visit the café owned by Oren’s widow, Anat (Sarah Adler).

    When Tomas gets a job washing dishes for Anat, he starts to bake cookies for her café. He is not Jewish, however, so his pastries are not kosher. Yet they are a success, so Anat works around the kosher law to sell them. She soon initiates a deeper, more personal relationship with Tomas—unaware that he was her husband’s lover. 

    Via Skype from Germany, where he has emigrated, the Israeli-born filmmaker spoke with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about making The Cakemaker and the intimate connection that develops between Tomas and Anat. Both grieve for Oren, comforting themselves with food. The Cakemaker features many scenes of characters preparing food and eating as a way of coping with their loneliness and palpable sense of loss.

    Food is a key element in Graizer’s life. A gastronomist, the filmmaker insisted, “Food is very natural to me; it’s in my DNA. I teach cooking. I am writing a cookbook.” He continued to explain the connection of food and feelings, recalling how his family gathered together on Friday evenings to break bread, and the sense-memory pleasure of, say, eating a birthday cake that your mother made when you were a child.

    Moreover, his emotional bond to food was emphasized when the filmmaker moved to Berlin. He said, “I was with a group of immigrants and we got together and cooked and rolled eggplant and talked about the difficulties and adventures we had,” indicating how food bonds people.

    Filming The Cakemaker was also an adventure for Graizer, who shot the film in 21 days and for less than $200,000. He describes it as a “guerilla movie.” He recounts how people objected to the filmmakers posting a non-kosher sign in Anat’s café window for a key scene in the film, so the crew had to hang it, shoot and leave. Likewise, a montage featuring Tomas baking chocolate cakes was filmed only when the production’s cameraman and sound guy snuck into the location on a Saturday (when Jerusalem observes the Sabbath) to shoot the baking montage.

    The kitchen is also a place where Anat seduces Tomas, creating a love triangle of sorts with the ghost of Oren. Graizer emphasized that the sex between Anat and Tomas is not about their sexuality. “When I wrote the film, it was clear to me that [this sex scene] would happen. Tomas is gay, but he can do it. When I tried to think, ‘Is it possible or not?’ it didn’t matter. This thing between them in the small kitchen is that they have a very strong connection.”

    He continued that they have sex, “but it’s about connecting after being alone, and feeling the presence of Oren in the kitchen with them. For her, it’s defying the memory of Oren, saying, ‘I can do what I want.’ And for Tomas, it is saying, ‘I want this, I want to try this. She is good, and open to me, and I can take Oren’s place. This is the way I can do that.’ It may not be conscious, but it’s beyond the definition of sexuality.”

    Grazier observes, “When you lose someone you love and grieve, you suffer. I think that from the second Tomas finds out about Oren’s death he is in post-trauma; he can’t cope with it. He goes to Jerusalem and copes by baking. He is sad, and he’s baking sadly. The only way he copes is through food, and Anat is not allowed to sell his food.”

    As The Cakemaker shows, the characters find themselves through breaking social laws. Significantly, Grazier does not condemn his characters for their deceptions. “I can be angry with Oren for having an affair, or for Tomas giving Anat sex, and touching her, which she needs,” he says. The film, however, allows audiences to understand the reasons for the characters’ behavior.

    The director continues, “It was important to show why Oren made his choice to find a job out of Israel and in Berlin. Oren is gay. He came from a religious family. He married a secular woman and raised a son.”

    Tomas’ relationship with Oren is only seen briefly in The Cakemaker. It is, though, quite critical to shaping the film’s power. Grazier acknowledged that he deliberately downplays the relationship between the two men: “In the beginning, you don’t think it’s a great love; it’s an affair more important for Tomas than Oren.”

    But it soon becomes clear how important the relationship has been for the lonely Tomas—and this is what makes The Cakemaker resonate.  

    © 2018 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer