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PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2018 6:41 am 
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TIM KALKHOF IN THE CAKEMAKER

Insinuating flavors

A promising feature debut from Israeli director talks about love, sexuality and food, not necessarily in that order. Everywhere the film goes, there is a tall, fleshy Berlin café manager and pastry baker named Thomas (Tim Kalkhof). This is a story permeated with the sense of making do with less, compensated by the performance of skilled work and the taste of a perfectly executed Black Forest chocolate cake or a subtly simple cinnamon cookie.

Thomas looks like a big, tall, beefy cherub. He is never more at home than kneading a hefty lump of dough with his strong arms. His blue eyes are sad. His grandmother, who raised him, an orphan with missing parents, taught him to be happy with what he had. Then Oren (Roy Miller) comes into his little café. We don't quite know the details - this movie is a bit too careless of them an times, yet also, in this early segment, remarkably deft and succinct - but Oren, an Israeli, has monthly duties with the company he works for in Berlin, otherwise is back in Jerusalem with his wife and small boy. He seems to have begun with love of Thomas' cookies, and then things turned sexual.

A year goes by, and the Berlin meetings go on. Oren gets cookies to take back to his wife, and makes love to Thomas. Thomas likes to hear about Oren's lovemaking with his wife, which will resonate later. One day Oren forgets his keys when he leaves. Thomas can't get him on the phone. Six weeks later he goes to the firm where Oren works in Berlin, and learns he's been killed in a car accident. Look at Thomas' pale, cherubic face, bereft. His grandmother didn't tell him how to deal with something like this. As far as we know, Oren was all Thomas has ever had of love.

What now happens may seem implausible, and has an element of the magical, partly the magic of wonderful cooking, delicious food (let us not speak the words "food porn," however). There is deviousness here, a touch of the Tom Ripley. Not that Thomas assumes Oren's identity. But, transferring to Jerusalem (leaving his café in the charge of someone else, we must assume), he anonymously weaves his way, with the strength of his beefy limbs and the deftness of his baking, into the life of Oren's widow, Anat (the excellent Sara Adler), and her son, Itai (the sly Tamir Ben Yehuda). Itai is hurting, which he quietly hides. Anat is sad but quite ready to cope. Thomas proves useful.

We now enter into the world of Anat's family and of Jerusalem, where the film has things to say about the burdens of living Kosher and observing Shabbat, of prejudices cherished and restrictions cheerfully imposed, contrasts between the religious and the secular life. Little by little Thomas, armed with the patience of one taught to live with less, works his way into Anat's café - yes, she has one too, which she's struggling to reopen after a period of bereavement. Thomas begins with washing dishes, then coring peppers. Then he sneaks some cookies out of the oven while Anat is out with Itai.

Thus he runs afoul of Anat's rigorous brother Moti (Zohar Shtrauss), who orders the cookies thrown out, and warns that Thomas' turning on of the oven will rob the café of its kosher status. But the cookies and cakes are too fine not to keep coming, and Thomas, to our surprise, is awarded a nice kosher apartment by Moti, because the German (to whose nationality Moti also objects) has caused business to flower with his baking. For the time being Anat is unaware of the sadness she and Thomas share, but in the little café, where he becomes so useful, they are drawn together.

The film is full of closeups of faces and hands as well as forks slipping int sublimely moist chocolate cake or a mouth biting into a perhaps not-so-good sandwich. The Cakemaker is rich in sensuality and sadness: the two seem inextricably linked. Note for instance how Thomas, using Oren's forgotten keys, makes his way to his gym and locker and dons his red speedos for a swim, a sorrowful, sexy homage.

It is hardly a surprise that things take more odd, shocking turns - though the film never stops being understated and muted, qualities enhanced by the score by Dominique Charpentier and cinematography of Omri Aloni. It's not sure if Tim Kalkhof is a marvelous actor, but he is a good physical one, with an unforgettable presence. Sara Adler , who recently had a key role in Samuel Maoz's Foxtrot, unquestionably is a pro. There are doubts about details of The Cakemaker's screenplay, but it marks Ofir Raul Graizer as a distinctive new Israeli director to watch, one with a gay sensibility and a passionate interest in cooking. As an article about him in the Jerusalem Post explains, he divides his time "between Israel (usually Jerusalem) and Berlin, where he lives with his husband and teaches cooking when he’s not working on movies."

The Cakemaker[/Der Kuchenmacher, 104 mins., in German, Hebrew, and English, debuted at Karlovy Vary ( Czech Republic), where it won the Ecumenical Jury award; then Jerusalem 28 Dec. 2017 , showing in many other festivals thereafter. Distributed in the US by Strand Releasing, it opens in New York and Los Angeles June 29, 2018.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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