In out gay director Ofir Raul Graizer’s heartfelt drama, “The Cakemaker,” Tomas (Tim Kalkhof) is a German baker whose affair with married Israeli businessman Oren (Roy Miller) ends abruptly when Oren dies offscreen. Grieving, Tomas travels to Jerusalem where he takes a job working in the kosher café owned by Oren’s widow, Anat (Sarah Adler). She becomes close with Tomas without knowing he is gay or that he was her late husband’s lover. Their relationship is further complicated when Tomas, who is not Jewish, bakes pastries for the café, and Anat, who cares little about religious laws barring him from doing so, allows them to be sold.
“The Cakemaker” shows how these lonely characters grieve, bake, and skirt social customs in an effort to express themselves. Graizer chatted via Skype about his lovely, poignant film.
GARY M. KRAMER: You have a background in gastronomy. There are so many wonderful scenes of food being made and consumed in the film. There’s a sensuality even in how Tomas kneads the bread! Why is food so important to you and the characters?
OFIR RAUL GRAIZER: For me, food is like an obsession. I love eating and cooking. But the real obsession for me is movies. I don’t want to have a restaurant. Food is always something that I found to be important. Good food gives you pleasure — when you taste a really good pasta or tear open fresh bread — the feeling is divine. You eat something really good it makes you smile and happy. Cooking food involves a lot of giving, telling a story, and connecting to people. When I think about food and the meaning of it, it brings up ideas, memories, family, emotions — so it’s through the food that I connect.
GMK: The characters connect through food, but also sex. Can you talk about creating the film’s love triangle?
ORG: I wanted to make the story between Tomas and Oren as a starting point because I’m gay. I’ve encountered similar stories in my life where a gay man has to — because of social or religious reasons — have a straight relationship. It’s banal, but it’s still relevant. I knew the story of a man who led a double life and died, and his wife didn’t know.
GMK: The film is about a gay man who becomes emotionally — and even physically — intimate with his lover’s widow. What observations do you have about their relationship?
ORG: What happens between Tomas and Anat in the kitchen is about them having a very strong connection. It’s not about their sexuality. It’s about them feeling the presence of Oren in the kitchen with them.
GMK: You deliberately use Oren’s clothing — especially his red bathing suit — as a symbol, substitute, or surrogate for the deceased. Can you discuss this expression of loss and remembrance of Oren through the clothes?
ORG: Clothes are a tool when someone is dead or not there. You can smell and feel them. The cookies Tomas bakes are a way of tasting him. The idea with the bathing suit and the clothes is Tomas wanting to become Oren. The red suit is like blood, and I wanted something that is in Judaism — as women who have their periods must purify themselves in the mikvah — that this red suit is his “period” metaphorically. It keeps him unable to express his sexuality. I imagined him wearing it like a fetish object.
GMK: There is also a palpable sense of loneliness for each character. Can you discuss that feeling your film provides?
ORG: This is something that I brought from my own life. I’ve always been an outsider, searching for myself and looking for a place to go. I wander streets looking for something, yearning for something. All the characters in the film carry this melancholic sadness. They all lost Oren, someone they loved.
GMK: There is a discussion of the café being kosher and Anat’s refusal to adhere to all the religious guidelines. This is a metaphor for sexuality and other things in the film. Can you discuss your motivation or agenda in addressing these themes?
ORG: The thing about sexual identity or norms — there’s a system. It has its own rules and you have to adjust to them if you want to be considered normal. In Jerusalem, you have to be a part of the system. You can be secular, but if you have a business you need to have a kosher certificate. What Tomas does when he comes to Jerusalem is that he shakes the system — he’s German, gay, and not Jewish. His food is non-kosher — which is dirty, spoiled, unclean. Social and religious laws are about control. It’s the same with sex. It has to be missionary, clean, and for a very specific purpose — to make babies.
Tomas is shaking all this up. It’s not because he’s not Jewish. Anat is not religious and will do things her own way. She changes things so Tomas can work in her café, and she steps out of the system. Oren came from a religious family. He married a secular woman and raised a son in a secular way, but he is gay and found a job abroad in Berlin. He went as far as he could to fulfill his real desires.
GMK: You clue the audience in on the relationship between Tomas and Oren early on. Why did you reveal that and not have viewers make the discovery when Anat does?
ORG: We wanted to show the beginning of the affair and then cut it in a cruel and ruthless way. Then begin a new story, and at its peak go back and remind the audience of the love story between the two men. Because of what we know about Anat and Tomas, that has a different meaning. This interests me in cinema — to create something and then break it apart to tell viewers something else. That makes you feel differently about what you saw before.
GMK: Anat and Tomas both make bad decisions. How do you want audiences to react to them?
ORG: The characters are in a situation where they are weak and naked and lonely and confused. They want to love and laugh and live. They make bad judgment and decisions.
People are complex. I want to have compassion toward them and not judge them. That’s why they are… ambivalent. Tomas lies to Anat and manipulates her. He isn’t doing something nice, but he’s saving her and providing her comfort.
THE CAKEMAKER | Directed by Ofir Raul Graizer | In English and German and Hebrew with English subtitles | Strand Releasing | Opens Jun. 29 | Quad Cinema, 34 W. 13th St. | quadcinema.com