Review by Jacquelin Hipes
When Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) begins an affair with the traveling businessman who frequents the café where he works as a baker, he appears completely unflustered by the man’s married-with-kids status. He even remembers to package up little boxes of the café’s cinnamon cookies, which his wife back in Jerusalem enjoys. Over the course of a year, he and Oren (Roy Miller) settle into a comfortable routine for his monthly visits to Berlin. But when Oren fails to return when he planned and fails to answer any of Thomas’ increasingly panicked messages, Thomas comes to learn that he died in a car accident in Israel several weeks prior.
Unable to learn anything more from Oren’s German office, he sets out to Jerusalem for answers. There he meets Anat (Sarah Adler), Oren’s widow and the owner of a failing café. He starts working for her as a dishwasher, then a baker, without revealing their intimate connection. Proximity to his lover’s other life sharpens the grieving process. Using a forgotten set of keys to snoop, he finds condoms in Oren’s locker at the local swimming club, a mystery that will never be solved. He takes his swimming trunks, though, and later accepts more of his clothes when Anat begins to clear away her old life.
While his time in Jerusalem exacerbates his pain, Anat appears to heal and thrive with Thomas’ company. His help and culinary confections at the café bring in waves of new customers, although they must be careful in how the food is prepared so that Anat can maintain her kosher certificate and appease her brother Moti (Zohar Shtrauss). As is so often the case, though, Thomas’ string of lies-by-omission cannot continue indefinitely, and his entanglement with Anat can only make their discovery worse.
Kalkhof mines the narrow gap between finding answers and finding closure, each discovery about his deceased lover’s home life rooting him more firmly in Israel, rather than sending him away. There’s an emotional sadism at play as well: when he asks Oren about the last time he slept with his wife or wears his old clothes, he relishes the pain without any apparent resentment. Turning in an equally impressive performance as Oren’s widow, Adler channels Anat’s grief into frustration and small rebellions against her more traditional brother.
Writer/director Ofir Raul Graizer wisely keeps what could have been a melodramatic climatic scene off-camera entirely. The Cakemaker isn’t about the lies and quiet deceptions that fill it, but rather the empathetic feelings of grief and longing that drive its characters to indulge in them. With the drama confined almost entirely to the expressions and unspoken words of Kalkhof and Adler, the viewer is forced to consider that neither of them is especially wrong in their conduct, merely wounded. By its final scene The Cakemaker has come full circle to emphasize the promise, and the threat, of a life that could have been.