Openly gay Israeli writer and director Ofir Raul Graizer has a delightful way of describing his delicious new movie, “The Cakemaker.”
“It’s about food and love and lust,” he says. “The Cakemaker” (in German and Hebrew with subtitles) opens at Landmark E Street Cinema (555 11th St., N.W.). Tickets and showtimes at landmarktheatres.com.
The story is loosely based on a friend of Graizer who lived a double life for 20 years. He was married to a woman and had children but also had affairs with men. The wife found out after his death from cancer.
“She emailed me to tell me what had happened and I just knew I had to make a movie about this woman,” Graizer says. “It’s a really messed-up situation. You live your life with somebody and then they die and you have to cope with death and the mourning and the grief. Then you find out they lied to you, manipulated you. You didn’t really know them, so how can you mourn them?”
From that initial idea, Graizer says, “I just put myself in the story. All the other things in the story — the character of the baker, the religions, the travel between Berlin and Jerusalem — are drawn from my life.”
“The Cakemaker” centers on Thomas (Tim Kalkhof), a German baker who has an affair with Oren (Roy Miller), a married Israeli businessman. When Oren misses one of his visits, Thomas investigates and discovers that Oren has died in a car accident. He travels to Jerusalem and without revealing who he is, starts working as a baker at the café owned by Oren’s widow Anat (Sarah Adler). Things become more complicated as their lives begin to intertwine.
Graizer says his initial work on the script was grounded in the characters and their unusual situation.
“When I first imagined the film, I didn’t have a message,” he says. “But it became clear to me that my characters wanted to live beyond the way they are defined by society. I wanted my characters to break out of those traditional boundaries, to be who they really were.”
For example, Anat struggles to define herself against religious dictates about keeping her café kosher and about living her life as a young widow and mother. As Graizer says, “Anat doesn’t want someone to tell her how to be religious. She has her own way. She is not religious, but she still wants to do some traditional things because she feels connected to them. It’s about finding your own way.”
As for Thomas, Graizer says, “he comes to Jerusalem and he becomes a different person. I don’t think he thinks about whether he’s gay or straight or bisexual. It doesn’t matter There are complexities. It’s about people and love and lust.”
Graizer also found himself breaking boundaries while casting the movie, especially the lead role of Thomas. He looked at hundreds of actors on a German casting website and auditioned about 20 actors in person. Then he saw a demo reel from Tim Kalkhof.
“I knew I had to invite him to audition,” Graizer says. “It was the opposite of typecasting. Tim is a well-known German TV actor who used to be a rugby player. He’s very straight, very macho, very slim — not at all like he is in the movie. We had to really tap into his acting skills because he is very different from Thomas. He had to gain 8 kilograms (18 pounds), he had to learn how to bake, he had to learn to be very quiet and repress his emotions. I wanted him to look like a baby, like dough. Everyone is trying to make something out of him.”
Now that “The Cakemaker” is getting rave reviews, Graizer is at work on a number of projects. One is about a clerk stuck in a job he hates who becomes with a piece of art. Another is about a man who returns to his homeland to bury his father. He wants to leave but finds himself trapped in memories and secrets.
His other project got started while he was waiting for the financing to come through for “The Cakemaker.” To pay the rent, Graizer offered cooking classes in Berlin. He turned his experiences into a cookbook which will be published in Germany in the fall.