"The Cakemaker": the award-winning film director Ofir Graizer also works as a chef. The Israeli filmmaker spoke to DW about finding parallels between Jerusalem and Berlin, homosexuality and filmmaking in Israel.
With a story that goes straight to the heart — and not the gut, as one might expect — The Cakemaker was described by the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel as "The most beautiful love story in a long time."
Tomas, a baker in Berlin, creates cookies and cakes that beguile Oren, an Israeli businessman with a wife and son in Jerusalem. Their shared love of cake creates a passion between the two men, who only see each other only intermittently. After Oren's death, Tomas spends time at the café in Jerusalem where Oren's widow, Anet, works. The two grow closer...
The Cakemaker is the cinematic debut of 37-year-old Israeli filmmaker Ofir Raul Graizer. The film about a love triangle celebrated its world premiere at the Film Festival in Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic in 2017; the following year, it was shown in cinemas in numerous countries and had a great reception. But Ofir is not only a director and scriptwriter, he is also a passionate chef.
Since the film's release, he has gone on to publish a recipe book. In an interview with DW, Graizer reveals where his love of cooking comes from, why he sees parallels between Berlin and Jerusalem and what hidden cookies have to do with his film.
DW: Mr. Graizer, what ingredient should never be missing from a movie or a good recipe?
Ofir Raul Graizer: Passion. We have to be interested in the things we do. It's also important not to take it all too seriously. Working on a film is hard, especially a drama about love and death, so you have to know what you want to express. Authenticity is thus very important — both when cooking and when making a film. It's always about people, it's not science, it doesn't have to be analytical or perfect.
The Cakemaker marked your feature film debut and has won many international awards. How was the film made?
I studied film in Israel and came to Berlin nine years ago. I'd already had the idea for the story when I arrived and was looking to find a narrative to tell this story, which draws slightly on the personal experience of an acquaintance who led a double life. He was married for 30 years and after his death, his wife found out that he was actually gay. I always wanted to make a movie about this woman, mourning her great love and loss while also knowing that he lied and manipulated her.
The love-triangle in the film takes place quite a bit in the kitchen.
I had this love story in mind and asked myself: in what context can I tell the story? I lived between two cities — Berlin and Jerusalem — two cities which I really like and which are very similar. That's also where the movie takes place. And I absolutely wanted to make a film that takes place in the kitchen as that is the best place for a story: the location where secrets are kept and exchanged with quiet whispers between grandma and mom — the "hidden cookies," you might say, metaphoric and real. Those are the ideas I threw together.
The film has received numerous awards in Israel and was nominated by the country for the Oscars. Did the success of a gay love story surprise you, given the country's conservative nature?
Making movies about gay subject matter hasn't been an issue in Israel for 20 years. There are other political problems, but the film industry itself is very open. I was more surprised that nobody wanted to support the film before it was finished so we made it with a budget reminiscent of a student production — we shot it with €90,000 ($101,000). We got no film funding in Germany either so it was a surprise that it nevertheless achieved such great success with the critics and the audience.
The film is about identity, acceptance and how society looks at individuals. Tomas, the main character, also experiences rejection in Israel. As a young gay man in Israel, did you have such experiences as well?
It's not exactly my story, but that feeling has existed since I was a child. I live freely and openly with my sexuality, but the question of identity has always been part of my life: Am I religious or secular? Gay, yes, but in a chauvinistic macho society. I came out 22 years ago at the age of 16. It was another world then. While I don't hide the fact that I'm gay, it does get complex when I visit religious friends or families. They see my ring and ask if I have a wife.
You have been living in Berlin for almost 10 years. Is it easier here?
Even in hip, multicultural Berlin, I'm always Israeli and Jewish — never Ofir. It can also be nice, because you get into conversations about certain topics. But I think defining identity should be less important.
You said that Berlin and Jerusalem were very similar. In what ways?
Berlin and Jerusalem are two cities that have an obsession with their past that they keep trying to redefine. Both cities have the concept of East and West. In Jerusalem, we have East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem, and although you can walk around freely, they are completely different worlds. Although in Berlin the wall is already gone, there is still a separation of East and West in Germany despite the reunification 30 years ago, which is still quite recent.
You baked as a teenager in Israel and later worked as a cook. In Berlin, you now lead cooking courses. How did this come about?
For Israelis, the most important question is what's on the menu today. In Berlin, cooking served as a means of warming the apartment in winter and I was always explaining to my friends how to prepare it all so a friend suggested I give cooking classes. There's a cooking school that's a two-minute walk from my apartment and it's great — the participants come together, we create a menu, I share my knowledge and at the end, everyone sits together, eating and drinking.
Your cookbook Ofir's Kitchen has the subtitle Israeli-Palestinian Family Recipes. Is it important to you to emphasize that this is a shared kitchen?
I have known these dishes since my childhood. When I talk about a recipe today, one says it's Turkish, the other says it's Greek. Everyone suddenly wants to be nationalistic so I say no, the food belongs to everyone. What is regional in Israel is also Palestinian to me — you cannot separate it. I do not think it is right to say that hummus is Israeli. The ingredients are local, but where is the border drawn? There is Palestine and Israel, both exist and hopefully will continue to exist. The kitchen is not oriented towards political issues.
You went to film school near the Gaza Strip. Is the political situation in the Middle East also a theme that you deal with in your film work?
The Cakemaker addresses national identity, but not directly. Of course it's on my mind; it also saddens me, because I don't see any political solution. On the contrary: the world is generally going in a bad direction. There are new populist groups and parties in Hungary, France and even in Germany. If such things happen all over the world, a conflict like the one in the Middle East threatens to be used for other interests.