The Israeli system of keeping kosher is far more stringent than the American Jewish custom of asking for no bacon on your Five Guys burger. Food and drink must be prepared through meticulous, religiously-copacetic procedures, with even the slightest indication that a cinnamon roll wasn’t glazed correctly or a baguette not baked in a pre-ordained oven enough cause to shut down a bustling Jerusalem bistro for good. But in “The Cakemaker,” the feature debut from writer and director Ofir Raul Graizer, these long-standing societal relationships and customs are questioned, not through what the profoundly heartfelt characters choose to say, but what secrets they keep to themselves.
We follow Thomas (Tim Kalkhof), a gifted baker living in Berlin. He’s approachable but not popular, timid but not a coward, expressing himself less through sentences and more through the glob of dough that he wrestles with his flour-coated hands. When the Israeli-born Oren (Roy Miller) steps into Thomas’ empty bakery, their cordial chit chat evolves into a quiet but impassioned romance despite Oren already having a wife and son back in his home country. Oren suddenly passes away, prompting Thomas to visit the Jewish State and seek employment at his wife Anat’s (Sarah Adler) new cafe while keeping his relationship with Oren a secret.
Regardless of nationality, sexuality or religious background, there is no denying that Thomas inserting himself into Anat’s life is highly inappropriate, intrusive and emotionally manipulative. But Thomas never feels like a creeper traveling thousands of kilometers just to satisfy a romantic grudge. His curiosity and yearning for closure earns more of our empathy than our disapproval. And as Anat adjusts to her new life status as a widow and business owner, she too warms up to Thomas’ baking charms, disregarding strict kosher customs with her indelible appetite for “fuck it” behavior.
It’s a slow burn, with characters exchanging only morsels of dialogue and key plot elements revealing themselves late into the second act. But this long cook allows us to warm up to these characters and comprehend the emotional impact Oren’s death has had on them. We get so used to Thomas baking in peace that we forget he’s even hiding a life-shattering secret from Anat, and Anat seems genuinely happy celebrating Shabbat with Thomas and her son that it’s almost like Oren was never at the table. Had Thomas never met Oren and found another way to Israel to work with Anat, their personal and professional relationship would have not have aroused any concern. But since they’re so happy despite these tragic circumstances that united them, who can really say the two shouldn’t enjoy their union?
“The Cakemaker” swells with emotion and insight, culminating with the single most emotionally raw scene you’ll witness at the movies in 2018. Had this been an American movie, Tim Kalkhof would be a shoe-in for the Best Actor Oscar, his nebulous yet nuanced Thomas existing like a floating dream in our heads after the credits have rolled. Sarah Adler too is a triumph, wrangling her character’s complex emotions of grief and new love with bravery and ease. Graizer’s reliance on slow periods of warming up and cooling down succeed on a script and directing level, never revealing key information too soon or too late. He wants us to taste his characters before we devour them, to sample their idiosyncrasies before we bite into their hearts. The film leaves you shattered with a gleam of hope, overwhelmed over a long foregone outcome but belief in the uncertainty and wildness that new beginnings can bring.