Tender and sensual, “The Cakemaker” mines powerful emotions from an unusual love triangle involving a sensitive German baker, a widowed Israeli cafe owner, and the man who loved them both.
Israeli writer-director Ofir Raul Graizer, making a strong feature debut, begins the story in a Berlin bakery, where Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) every morning makes sweet treats for his customers. One of those customers is Oren (Roy Miller), a businessman visiting from Jerusalem. Oren tries one slice of Thomas’ Black Forest cake and is hooked.
Soon, Oren is in Thomas’ apartment, and a romance ensues, rekindled once a month when Oren flies in for work from Israel. Oren tells Thomas he’s married with a son back in Jerusalem, and that she will never learn of this affair.
After a year, Oren’s visits suddenly stop. Thomas visits the Berlin branch of Oren’s company and learns that Oren was killed in a car accident in Jerusalem. Thomas is devastated by the news, but decides on a risky course: To go to Jerusalem, and try to meet Anat (Sarah Adler), Oren’s wife.
Thomas finds Anat running her cafe, sweating over the details of a rabbi’s inspection to have her kitchen certified kosher. Thomas, in English because he doesn’t speak Hebrew, asks Anat if she needs any kitchen help. One day, as she’s juggling the cafe with taking care of her son, Itai (Tomer Ben Yehuda), she gives him a job washing dishes, over the objections of Oren’s brother Motti (Zohar Strauss).
Soon, though, the baking urge is too great, and he starts making cookies and cakes. His pastries are delicious, but Anat warns they may not be kosher, and his baking them in the cafe could risk her certification —and with it, her business.
The one fault in Graizer’s story, and it’s a big one, is that we know what Thomas knows about Anat and her deceased husband — and we know it’s inevitable Anat will eventually find out, because all the clues are there. Heck, Oren’s mother Hanna (Sandra Sade) meets Thomas for all of five minutes and she intuitively knows he’s got a connection to her late son.
Delaying the inevitable reveal, Graizer provides space for his characters, notably the shy Thomas and the harried Anat, to show themselves to each other — two people with the same Oren-shaped hole in their hearts. Kalkhof, a relative newcomer with quiet charm, and Adler, who impressed as the grieving mother in “Foxtrot,” have an unhurried chemistry that makes their intertwined grief palpable and gives “The Cakemaker” a sweet finish.
Opened June 29, 2018, in select U.S. cities; opens Friday, August 10, in Salt Lake City, at the Tower Theatre. Not rated, but probably R for sexuality and some language. In Hebrew and German, with subtitles. Running time: 105 minutes.