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Ofir Raul Graizer The Cakemaker


The Cakemaker | Review

The Cakemaker | Review

I’ll Never Have That Recipe Again: Graizer Glazes Quiet Drama with Bittersweet Longing

Ofir Raul Graizer The CakemakerThere’s an awful lot of complex intersectionality going on within Israeli director Ofir Raul Graizer’s directorial debut, The Cakemaker. A German-Israeli co-production, which further complicates its juxtaposed national identities with some familiar yet unpredictable plays on fluid sexuality, exudes the addictive food-porn defined romance of something like Lasse Hallstrom’s Chocolat (2000) with the droll but sobering eloquence of Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet (1993). Featuring downbeat but surprisingly enjoyable tension and chemistry between leads Tim Kalkhof and notable Israeli actress Sarah Adler, Graizer manages a graceful, character driven melodrama which might play with a familiar, once taboo ménage a trois triangulation whose dramatic climax is ultimately inevitable but nevertheless succeeds in drawing us in with its expertly mixed quality ingredients. Premiering a year ago out of Karlovy Vary, where it won the Ecumenical Jury Prize, Graizer straddles intriguing divides with this promising, subtle debut.

A year after traveling Israeli businessman Oren (Roy Miller) begins an extra-marital affair with Berlin baker Thomas (Tim Kalkhof), he suddenly disappears. Unable to reach him for several months, Thomas visits his Berlin based colleagues only to discover Oren died in a tragic accident in Jerusalem. Devastated by this loss, Thomas closes shop and flies to Israel, encroaching on Oren’s wife Anat (Sarah Adler), who had recently opened her own café shortly before becoming widowed. After witnessing her struggle to juggle business and familial expectations as he frequents her establishment, Thomas is offered an opportunity to work for her. Slowly, he begins to introduce his confectionary recipes into the kosher café, which becomes exactly the controversial move both need to become jarred out of their emotional stupor. Eventually, however, Anat is destined to discover who Thomas is really is.

Although the synopsis would seem to suggest the narrative is dominated by the catalyzing love affair between Oren and Thomas, it’s Adler who absorbs most of the audience sympathies, thanks in part to a narrative which allows her a stellar playground of opposing emotional plateaus. Like a Charlotte Gainsbourg or a Sibel Kekilli, Adler is an emotive powerhouse nearly mistaken for an unassuming presence in her early sequences, a detached woman mourning the loss of her husband but already well into mourning her devolving marriage well before his death. With a subtle intensity, she slowly shifts into place as the film’s most vibrant force, revitalized by Thomas and his baking, assisting her in the rejection of a religious doctrine she no longer wishes to follow and allowing herself to enjoy a profession circumstances had quickly tarnished.

Known for roles in a variety of noted works, such as 2007’s Jellyfish, Godard’s Notre Musique, and Samuel Maoz’s lauded Foxtrot, Adler’s performance here represents one of her strongest calling cards to date. Kalkhof’s stoicism makes Thomas a bit more inscrutable. Obviously missing his long-distance lover, whose death is a nicely played bit of jarring news, it’s not difficult to ascertain Graizer is setting us up for a painful reckoning between both. Dipping them into an extensively uncomfortable love-making scene in a flour coated kitchen might sound like a ghastly and even demeaning cliché, and yet the painstaking character work allows for this kind of unprecedented connection between them to remain as sincere as it is awkward.

Also of interest is Graizer’s use of Zohar Shtrauss, best known for starring in Haim Tabakman’s 2009 film Eyes Wide Open, a vibrant contemporary cornerstone of queer Israeli cinema, here playing Adler’s oppressive brother-in-law. Graizer’s touching film refutes predictable outcomes thanks to its melancholy, often bittersweet undertones of missed opportunities courtesy of oppressive social expectations, fashioning The Cakemaker into an enjoyable slice of unexpected connection.


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), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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