Some of us were raised not to buy German products, never to ride in a German-made car, and certainly not to visit Germany. But that sentiment has been changing over the years, as Germany has become one of Israel’s greatest supporters and as the number of joint ventures between the two countries has mushroomed. Anyone who has visited Berlin in the last several years will have heard Hebrew spoken on the street, Israeli restaurants abound there, and a cadre of creative Israeli artists has made it home. As Tel Aviv has become a very expensive place to live, Berlin, with its cheaper rents, has become a go-to venue for artists, and it has evolved into one of the innovative and creative centers of Europe, as it had been a century ago.
Undoubtedly the most pro-Semitic country in Europe today, Germany is a place where Israelis feel quite comfortable.
As a result, we are seeing more German-Israeli film co-productions, and many Israeli movies are shot in Germany. Last year, Avi Nesher’s “Past Life” described the journey of a talented musician, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, who goes to Germany to study and search out her grandmother’s “real” story.
This year, in Eran Riklis’s thriller “Shelter,” Mossad agents provide a German safe house for a Lebanese informer, with the supposed assistance of its intelligence services. Now, Ofir Raul Graizer brings us “The Cakemaker,” a story about an extramarital relationship that begins when Oren, an Israeli businessman, walks into a Berlin bakery to buy pastries for his wife, Anat, back home.
When Oren goes missing, a series of events brings the baker to Jerusalem in order to search for Anat, one lover seeking out the other. Before you know it, the pastry chef is creating amazing cakes in Anat’s new café, and she can hardly handle the business. But here we see the film director’s hand — this German is made to feel unwelcome by Anat’s brother-in-law, and the German’s cakes are deemed not to be kosher. Can this gentile turn on the oven and produce food for Jewish mouths? Through his film, Graizer raises important questions about inclusiveness and acceptance of the outsider, the other, in Israeli society.
These days, when Anthony Bourdain’s death eclipsed all other news, and where Michael Solomonov’s “Zahav,” about the world of Israeli cooking, was selected as the centerpiece of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s “One Book, One Community” program this year, cooking and baking are very much a part of our lives. This was not lost on filmmaker Graizer. Not only do we go to the cakemaker’s bakery in his film, we also are introduced to many German delicacies in it. It makes us want to rush out of the theater for a taste. And in the Jerusalem café where the pastry chef makes magic, Israelis seem just as excited about the sweets on the menu.
As the film’s action shifts back and forth from Berlin to Jerusalem, it touches on mixed feelings about the new Israel-Germany love affair. It delves into questions about family, sexuality, acceptance and nonacceptance of difference, and religion in Israel. It also magically pushes the power of the Shabbat experience.
In an interview with the filmmaker, Graizer told me that he developed his screenplay from the story of someone close to him who lived a double life. In fact, he told me, he knew many people who had these secret lives, and he wanted to dig deeper. Graizer always has been proud of his Jewish and Israeli identities, he said; he moved to Berlin in order to “redefine himself,” as he put it. He felt freer in Berlin to develop his film than he would have had he stayed in Israel. He also told me about his love for baking and how this culinary talent was so dynamic, drawing from many traditions and having symbolic meanings. “Just consider the mixing bowl of ingredients,” he said.
Graizer succeeds in infusing these elements into this powerful film. In it, the baker, whether he is kneading dough or simply opening the oven door to reveal the awesome product within, expresses a variety of feelings and passions.
This is Ofir Raul Graizer’s first feature film. What a terrific way to begin his career! Sarah Adler, whom you may have seen in “Foxtrot” earlier this year, is extraordinary as Anat, and the music, by Dominique Charpentier, is exceptional. This is a film definitely worth your consideration. “The Cakemaker” opens nationwide today.
Eric Goldman’s interview with Ofir Raul Graizer may be seen on his television program, “Jewish Cinematheque,” this coming week over the Jewish Broadcasting Service. Check local cable listings.