Foreign Films in Focus

Israel's Oscar Submission 'Cakemaker' Focuses on Sex, Love and Deceit in a Jerusalem Bakery

Courtesy of KVIFF

Ofir Raul Graizer passes no judgments in his debut feature about a German baker who develops a morally questionable relationship with the widow of the closeted man he once loved: "Yes, he is doing these morally wrong things. But because [of it], he brings life into her."

Everyone wants Ofir Raul Graizer to make up his mind.

The Cakemaker, Graizer's debut feature, is a study in dualities: male and female, religious and secular, gay and straight. But at a time when societies around the world seem intent on choosing sides, Graizer refuses to put his characters in a box.

The Cakemaker follows Thomas (Tim Kalkhof), a young German baker living in Berlin, as he falls in love with a customer, Oren, a married (and closeted) Israeli businessman. When Oren dies unexpectedly, Thomas' grief draws him to Jerusalem and to the cafe of Oren's widow, Anat (Sarah Adler), who gives him a job. The two work side by side in the kitchen, baking beautiful cakes and pastries. But even as they develop a deep mutual affection, Anat has no idea they're grieving for the same man.

One of the questions audiences keep asking Graizer, 37, who is himself gay, is whether Thomas is gay or straight — or perhaps bisexual.

"People are complex, they have been complex, they always will be complex," Graizer says. "I don't know if Thomas is gay or straight or bi or whatever — I don't know and I don't care. He had such a strong feeling toward this guy, and this guy is taken away from him, and then he creates this strong connection with this woman, and for her it's the same. And this is what it's about: this connection, this love, these genuine feelings which are transcending any definition or label or box."

Another question the film asks is whether a person's actions define them as good or evil. However devoid of malice Thomas' heart might be, he lies to Anat and her family. He manipulates her and violates her trust. Is he a good guy or a bad guy?

Graizer has no interest in such strict definitions of morality. "The question I want to ask is, Can I judge him? And yes, I can judge him, but to what extent?" says the filmmaker, who worked for eight years to get his project to the screen. "Yes, he is doing things which are morally wrong. But because he is doing these morally wrong things, he brings life into her, he brings business into her cafe, he makes her [grieving and distressed] kid eat, he makes her feel alive again — because of his lies, because of his deceit, because of his manipulations and acts which are immoral."

For Graizer, who also wrote the film, the point is to tell "human stories" about flawed people who have "an honest beautiful intention" even if they make questionable decisions.

"If I try to define it as an agenda," he says of his vision, "it's to look beyond the political, beyond the boxes, and go back to the simple ideas of tolerance and understanding."

This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.