The Cakemaker (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A baker and his lover’s wife

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Israeli-German film “The Cakemaker” is a sensitive and tentative drama which engages us via the quietly nervous and uncertain situation between its two different main characters. As watching them slowly approaching to each other step by step, we come to wonder what will eventually happen due to several serious matters between them, and the movie gives us a number of subtle but palpable emotional moments in addition to some distinctive cultural touches and lovely sights of cakes.

The movie begins with how Thomas (Tim Kalkhof), a young German baker working in a small nice cafe located in Berlin, happens to get romantically involved with Oren (Roy Miller), a married Israeli guy who visits the cafe whenever he comes to the city for his work. At first, their conversation is about how much Oren likes Thomas’ cake, but then the conversation becomes a little more private, and then we see their very intimate moment at Thomas’ apartment.

During next several months, Oren and Thomas become closer to each other as spending more time together, but, unfortunately, their happiness does not last long. Shortly after Oren flies back to Jerusalem again, Thomas calls him for a small trivial matter, but Oren does not answer his call while not even responding to his voice messages. When Thomas finally goes to a company Oren has worked with, he is told that Oren died due to a car accident in Jerusalem several days ago, and Thomas is naturally devastated by this sad news.

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The movie calmly observes what Thomas does next after that. He flies to Jerusalem, and then he locates a cafe run by Oren’s wife Anat (Sarah Adler). After dropping by her cafe, he offers his temporary service to Anat while not telling her anything about his real identity, and Anat, who does not completely recover from her loss yet, gladly accepts his offer. As her brother-in-law sharply points out, Thomas is not allowed to use the kitchen of her cafe due to a Kosher law, but Anat allows him to work in the kitchen after she sees what a good baker he is, and that certainly helps her business.

As becoming more important in Anat’s daily life, Thomas finds himself gradually settling in a world quite alien to him in many aspects. When he moves out of his temporary staying place to an apartment thanks to a little help from Anat’s brother-in-law, he is told that he must follow Kosher rules whenever he uses the kitchen of his new place, and you will probably be quite amused to see that there are separate kitchenwares for meet and diary product, respectively. Although he is technically a foreign heathen, he is often asked to join the ritual dinner on the Sabbath, and we later see him spending the Sabbath along with Anat and her young son, who is rather sullen probably because of his father’s death but subsequently becomes a bit brightened by Thomas’ benevolent presence.

Now you probably think you can see where the story is heading, but the movie does not push its two main characters into any contrived situation, and it simply continues to observe the emotional uncertainties surrounding them instead. While he may be glad to get to know more about his dead lover through Anat and her family members, Thomas keeps hiding his secret from them, and he still does not know how to deal with his circumstance as getting himself more involved in Anat’s life day by day. As spending more time with Thomas, Anat comes to have a certain feeling toward Thomas, but then she must decide whether she has to delve further into a certain thing she wants to ignore.

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While not spelling out everything in his story, director/writer Ofir Raul Grazier, who made several short films before making this first feature film of his, lets us immerse into his main characters’ emotional states though small moments to be appreciated for nuances and details. I like a brief ambiguous scene unfolded in Oren’s frequent swimming pool, and I also appreciate how deftly the movie establishes the distinctive cultural/religious atmosphere of Jerusalem on the screen through several things including the routine public announcement of the Sabbath. In case of a few sensual moments in the film, they are tastefully handled with enough intimacy and sensitivity, and they accordingly function as crucial parts of its drama.

In addition, the movie gives us several nice shots of cakes made by Thomas. Although the movie is not exactly a food porn, it is not easy to resist those sweet sights in the film, and you may want to have a piece of cake after watching the film. Besides looking believable in his cooking scenes, Tim Kalkhof is excellent in his nice nuanced performance, and he did a good job of conveying the churning emotions behind his character’s benign façade during a number of key scenes in the film.

In the opposite, Sarah Adler is commendable as a woman who is as emotionally confused and uncertain as a sudden stranger coming into her life. She is particularly good when her character gradually reveals her tender side to Thomas, and that is why that inevitable moment around the finale is quite effective. In case of other substantial performers, Zohar Strauss and Tamir Ben Yehuda are also fine in their supporting roles, and Roy Miller clicks well with Kalkhof in their few scenes in the film.

“The Cakemaker”, which was recently shown in Jeonju International Film Festival, requires some patience due to its slow narrative pacing, and some of you may complain about its rather unresolved ending, but it is rewarding experience on the whole thanks to its competent direction and good performances. To be frank with you, I like its interesting human drama more than what I had to endure while watching “Deadpool 2” (2018) and “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018), and I hope you will also appreciate this small precious gem.

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