The Cakemaker still has its sentimental tendencies in depicting its secretive queer protagonist. And first-time filmmaker Ofir Raul Grazier lingers on said protagonist’s loneliness. But its ambiguous morality saves this movie. It shows characters capable of having hidden motivations but they can still be benevolent.
Grazier also makes interesting choices in depicting his protagonist in making rash yet understandable decisions. He never visually idealizes his characters the way other filmmakers tackling queer subjects do. And sometimes his lingering, static long takes reveal a vulnerable quality that’s specific to queerness.
Tim Kalkhof plays the protagonist, Thomas, a talented young German baker who enters into an affair with Oren (Royal Miller). It’s an interesting arrangement for him to let the Israeli businessman in his apartment every month. But his death throws a wrench in that arrangement. After Oren’s death, Thomas, without an explanation, moves to Jerusalem and works in Oren’s wife Anat’s (Sarah Adler) cafe. This is where Grazier shows us Thomas pouring into his work in what is a utilitarian foodie movie. Grazier’s more interested in process than product.
Grazier’s also interested in Thomas terse yet civil conversations with the other characters, especially with Anat. Perhaps this film is riding luckily on a reemerging trend in queer films with sparing dialogue. It’s a change of rhythm for audience members who expect more verbose characters. Neither does Grazier rely on meet cute shots to establish Thomas an Anat’s chemistry. There’s even an ambivalence on whether or not we want these two people together. That’s especially true since she is the last person to clue in on their real connection.
Kalkhof is good of letting Thomas’ conflicts aside, giving Adler room to express how much Anat has to juggle. Adler, used to slum it in stock characters and wife roles. But here she has the range to show off Anat being more than a mom. And of course, Oren is a literal ghost hanging around Thomas and Anat. He lives through his things that both of them possess, clues to his past. This is one of the film’s lesser elements but it’s necessary to keep the love triangle alive.
One of the more interesting ghosts are the cultural ones. Grazier shows the inherent micro-aggressive ways that both Thomas and Anat’s cultures invade their autonomy. He shows this through visuals and sounds. It also realistically shows the subversiveness that its protagonists can’t really benefit from.