In ‘The Cakemaker,’ a gay lover and straight woman long for the same man

Tim Kalkhof and Sarah Adler in a scene from “The Cakemaker.” (Strand Releasing)

Tom Tugend

LOS ANGELES (JTA) —  “The Cakemaker” has been one of the more successful indie films on the international festival circuit over the past year. Its recipe: a secret gay Israeli-German love affair, a tragic death and another secret affair — between a straight woman and a gay man.

The film, which features Hebrew, German and English, opens June 29 in New York and Los Angeles, followed by a national rollout. The rights have already been sold for a U.S. remake.

The story begins in Berlin, where Thomas (German actor Tim Kalkhof) is the owner of a small cake and pastry cafe. Among his most loyal customers is an Israeli businessman, Oren, whose job takes him frequently to the German capital. (Oren is played by Roy Miller, an Israel actor, his name notwithstanding.)

Though devoted to his wife, Anat, and young son back in Jerusalem, Oren and Thomas begin a passionate affair during one of his visits. Oren leaves to return to Israel and promises to keep in touch, but Thomas doesn’t hear from him in a while. The young German checks with Oren’s office and learns that he was killed in an auto accident. (This and what’s below is all revealed in the trailer, if you’re worried about spoilers.)

Distraught, but determined to learn more about his dead lover, Thomas flies to Israel and tracks down the restaurant run by Oren’s widow, portrayed by the talented Israeli actress Sarah Adler. Without revealing his own relationship to Anat’s late husband, Thomas is hired as a dishwasher. However, he cannot resist baking some cookies on the side, which delight Anat and her son. Less enthusiastic is Anat’s religiously observant brother Moti, since the gentile Thomas has unwittingly used treif ingredients, thus putting at risk the restaurant’s kosher certificate.

After a short time, the older Anat falls in love with the younger Thomas and makes sexual overtures — which, after some hesitation, Thomas reciprocates.

That’s not the end of the story, but enough for Ofir Raul Graizer to acknowledge that this, his first feature film as director and writer, reflects much of his personal worldview and, to some extent, his personal experiences. In one interview he talks about a friend who had a wife and family but lived a secret double life as a gay man and died suddenly of cancer.

“I always wanted to do a story about people who don’t want to be defined by political, sexual and national identities,” Graizer told JTA. “These are people who say ‘I don’t care about these identities, I am who I am.’ … I want to love someone because I need to be close to that person and not because I’m homosexual or heterosexual.”

Much of his attitude was shaped by his childhood in Raanana, the central Israel town where he grew up in a family with a religious father and a secular mother. Now 36, Grazier came out of the closet at 16. After finishing high school, he showed an interest in the textile and food industries (he still gives classes in Middle Eastern cuisine) and studied film at Sapir College in Sderot, adjoining the Gaza Strip. After graduation he directed a number of short films, which have won prizes at film festivals in Europe, Israel, United States and Latin America.

“The Cakemaker,” with a haunting musical score by the French composer Dominique Charpentier, has been shown, and won prizes, at numerous European film festivals. At almost every place, Graizer recounted, “A dozen or so people would come up to me to tell me how my film had validated their own youthful experiences.”

One notable exception came at a film festival in Germany. The event’s organizer refused to show the film, not because of the risqué theme, but because he believed that it was impossible for a gay man to have intercourse with a woman.

Graizer still disagrees with the judgment.

“Under the right circumstances, or under the influence of drugs, a gay man can have sex with a woman and a lesbian with a man,” he said.