Light piano music leads us from hands slowly massaging dough, through a cityscape, into a Torten Laden, Café Krendenz on a busy street in Berlin. THE CAKEMAKER, playing as part of Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival, is a profound and impactful film which has been crafted with loving hands.
The dough kneader is Thomas and he is the cakemaker and baker of the film’s title. Into his café comes Oren, an Israeli businessman working monthly on a project in Berlin. He orders an espresso and cinnamon cookies to take home to his wife, Anat, in Jerusalem.
Events seem to happen quickly after Thomas agrees to accompany his customer on a shopping trip for Oren’s 6 year old son, Itai. When next we see them, Thomas and Oren are a relationship, Oren is visiting and it is evident that the baker is struggling with his lover’s other life. Not long after, the baker and the wife will meet in Jerusalem after Oren drops out of contact and Thomas makes the decision to visit his Berlin office to enquire.
It is Thomas’ point of view from which we first see Oren. We are behind the counter as he bustles in and from this first meeting, the film gives Thomas’ interior world a poignant and desperate truth.
His loneliness is so well evoked as he roams Jerusalem streets and spends time sitting with his loss, Tim Kalkhof giving us a Thomas whose taciturn nature is richly expressed. Often silent, sometimes monosyllabic Kalkhof endows Thomas with an enriching complexity. And such a strong sense of how lost he is. While the audience may be asking themselves “why?” when watching the choices he is making, it is evident that he has no idea either.
Played with touching realism by Sarah Adler, Anat has a similar depth of character in her initial sorrow as we meet her. But as we get to know Anat, the real excellence of this performance is rooted in conflict… with her brother in law over orthodox issues and with herself as the fog lifts. We see her mostly within Thomas’ vicinity and his confusion colours her but those scenes when she is alone with her fear are simply heartbreaking.
This is a film shot with a reliance on the subtleties of human pain in the face. With a slightly washed out bluish palette, contrasted occasionally with the warmth of lighter browns, faces are foregrounded in a wistful urban landscape. There is little music to guide emotions, just an insistence of traffic, dogs and urban living just in earshot. The piano score used sparingly and without mawkishness. Jerusalem scenes are more vibrant and less structured than Berlin settings, but Director/ Writer Ofir Raul Grazier has kept tight control over the framing and cutting and has limited the camera movement.
It is a slow burn film which has several gasp out loud moments that make one want to call out “no”. These are created with micro gestures, the use of closeup, static shots and an understanding of the audience empathy for the characters. THE CAKEMAKER is a perfect fit for MGFF. Thomas is ‘the other’ in so many ways.
But this is not the only theme of the film. Gently broached but insistent, the German/Jewish tensions, historic and contemporary are not ignored. Grazier himself is an Israeli living in Berlin who took 8 years to bring his project to the screen. It was invited to the Czech Republic’s 2017 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival where it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.
It is the later part of THE CAKEMAKER which really explores desire and love and what humans in the extremis of grief will do to soothe the pain. And, like baking, this is where the care and attention to detail in the preparation give a dramatic climax as powerful as it is inevitable. The aftermath of which engenders questions about sexuality, attraction and the intricacy of intimacy.
For more information about Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival visit: http://queerscreen.org.au/mardi-gras-film-festival-2018