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My Favorite Cake Review


My Favorite Cake | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

My Favorite Cake | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Layer Cake: Moghaddam & Sanaeeha Find Love in a Hopeless Place

If ever there were a film depicting how one cannot have their cake and eat it too, it would be My Favorite Cake, the second feature co-directed by Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha. In essence, its narrative structure couldn’t be more simplified. A lonely widow in her seventies decides to search for love one afternoon and finds her energies reciprocated during one wine soaked, ultimately bittersweet evening. And yet, the film is also about so much more, as the ripple effects in Iran have already clearly shown by governmental sanction against the directors for daring to show an authentic experience of an Iranian woman. Such a vitriolic response underlines the importance of the film, which is daring for showing how women in Iran feel about the conditions under which they are forced to live (not to mention their moments of joyful rebellion). To be clear, it is a film intent on directly speaking to these issues, but it is also a tender, loving reflection of hoping for more than the meager options we’re allowed due to the limitations imposed upon us.

Mahin (Lily Farhadpour) is now seventy, and has been a widow for the past thirty years. Her daughter moved away to Europe years ago to start a family of her own, so she’s settled into a comfortable rhythm where restless nights see her sleeping everyday until the early afternoon. After an annual get together with her friends to celebrate her impending birthday, their jovial conversation seems to spark a motivation in Mahin. Taking a taxi one day, she decides to enjoy some pastimes, but also seems to be on the lookout for any potential single retirees, visiting a park where she knows the elderly exercise. However, Mahin is somewhat out of sync with the habits of those her age. At a restaurant, she spies Esmail (Esmail Mehrabi), who seems affable and a little bit lonely himself. She overhears he has no wife and works at a nearby taxi stand. Following him, she waits for him to be available so she can hire him to give her a ride home. Surprised at her forwardness, Esmail’s curiosity gets him an invitation to come into her home. And suddenly, the possibility of a new love blossoms before them.

For those unfamiliar with Iranian cinema, My Favorite Cake immediately announces itself as something unique—-a group of older women speaking openly about relationships and sex. It’s this conversation which motivates Mahin to venture outside of her home one day and, as luck would have it, find someone who can satisfy her desire for companionship. The bulk of the film is a magical night of courtship, and, as we come to find, is ultimately too good to be true. But not from the nagging interference of the morality police, always on hand to provide fascistic mind control through aggression and brute force. Nor is the bittersweet turning point the cause of meddling from others, like the percentage of women intent on policing others as their only way to feel important or powerful, such as Mahin’s neighbor lady. It’s an intoxicating moment of romantic entanglement that feels like Frank Capra, before it falls headlong into Leo McCarey territory.

Behtash Sanaeeha Maryam Moqadam My Favorite Cake Review

As Mahin, Lily Farhadpour is disarmingly charming in this refreshing portrait of a woman who’s fearlessness goes beyond simply her desire to find love and companionship. On her solitary day journey to visit a coffee shop and lunch at a pensioner’s restaurant, she interferes with the morality police in the park, rounding up young women whose hijabs aren’t properly affixed. She mourns pre-revolutionary times when she could wear make-up and low necklines. Much like their exceptional 2020 title Ballad of a White Cow (read review), the latest from this directing duo really concerns the struggle of a woman navigating an impossible system designed to work against her. “Don’t be so submissive,” she advises a young woman she assists in eluding arrest. “It’s something I only learned recently.” Mahin’s temperament and tenacity brings to mind Sally Hawkins in Mike Leigh’s 2008 Happy-Go-Lucky, where great sadness has commingled with her ardor to create an affirming determination for joy.

Matching her energy is Esmail Mehrabi’s crusty taxi driver. With relief, we realize Mahin has chosen wisely in her daring gamble to procure a new mate. Unfortunately, lasting happiness is just beyond their grasp. Masterful without feeling cloying or twee, there’s nary a missed step in this sly approach to examining lost opportunities. The titular cake makes an appearance, and despite the triteness of its title out of context, becomes a formidable symbol. Even as harsh reality wheedles its way into the film’s rosy glow, we’re left feeling, somehow, she’ll make it through.

Reviewed on February 16th at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival – Main Competition section. 97 mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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