The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival features two queer films in this year’s program — one is a dramatic character study, the other a farcical comedy.
The festival opens Nov. 4 with the Philadelphia premiere of “The Cakemaker” at the Gershman Y.
This gentle, absorbing drama, written and directed by the openly gay Ofir Raul Graizer, has businessman Oren (Roy Miller), a married father from Israel, frequenting the café in Germany where Tomas (Tim Kalkhof) works and bakes. The two men begin a passionate tryst that ends when Oren is killed in a car accident. This tragedy prompts Tomas to travel to Jerusalem to investigate Oren’s life. He visits the café owned by Oren’s widow, Anat (Sarah Adler), and gets a job washing dishes for her. One day, he takes the liberty of making cookies; baking seems to be the only thing that gives Tomas pleasure. Unfortunately, his actions get him in trouble with Anat’s brother, Motti (Zohar Shtrauss), because Tomas is not kosher and the café is. However, Tomas’ pastries bring the café such success that Anat cares little about the religious laws.
Now, fully ingratiated into a new life with his late lover’s family, Tomas feels less lonely, even though he is still living a lie. Tomas does not tell Anat that he is gay, or that he once knew Oren.
“The Cakemaker” builds its drama on these eventual discoveries, but the film is less about the characters’ sexuality, and more about the intimate connections they create. Graizer shows how Tomas and Anat reflect on their lives in the light of Oren’s death. One of the most moving scenes has Tomas wearing Oren’s clothes, giving both him and Anat an emotional trigger about the man they both loved and lost.
The messages of “The Cakemaker,” however, are not just about how to cope with grief. Graizer emphasizes the importance of self-expression. He teaches her how to bake, and her son, Itai (Tamir Ben Yehuda), how to apply icing. She shows him the importance of family, and he even bonds with Oren’s mother, Hanna (Sandra Sadeh). The film may get contrived — and for some viewers it may strain credibility — when Anat makes a pass at Tomas, who accepts it, but the emotion in this moment is what’s important here.
Graizer coaxes strong, expressive performances from Kalkhof and Adler, who communicate with each other in English. The filmmaker also showcases the food well. (Graizer has a background in gastronomy). “The Cakemaker” is an affecting story about love, loss and pastry.
On Nov. 12, the festival will screen “Family Commitments” at the Gershman Y. This amusing German farce has David (Maximilian von Pufendorf) proposing to his Arab boyfriend, Khaled (Omar El-Saeidi). However, there are complications that may jeopardize any impending nuptials. Khaled is not yet out to his father, Faisal (Ramin Yazdani), which irritates David. In contrast, Khaled is unhappy that David has not cut the apron strings binding him to his Yiddish-spouting mother, Lea (Maren Kroymann). That Lea disapproves of Arabs is another complication, which gets worse when Lea becomes Faisal’s landlord — she plans to evict his family. And, oy vey! If all this drama was not enough, Sarah (Franziska Brandmeier), a teenage painter, turns up on David’s doorstep nine-months’ pregnant claiming that he is the father.
Lea, who wants a grandchild, is thrilled by this last development and orders a paternity test. But David wants to give the baby up for adoption. Khaled helps Sarah with her maternity care, which prompts Faisal to think Khaled is going to be a father.
Meanwhile, other issues arise, including one that concerns David’s failing art gallery. He is supporting a gay painter, Nils Nürtinger (Hendrik von Bültzingslöwen), in the attic. Nils would rather have sex than create art, as a series of comic encounters proves. Khaled also has outside pressures at work. He has an upcoming teaching exam, and is dealing with both a homophobic teen he coaches on the soccer field as well as a headmistress who hopes to seduce Khaled.
What transpires, as in any good farce, is a series of lies and misunderstandings, as well as pretenses and reversals of fortunes. It is all set to a lively klezmer beat. “Family Commitments” is entertaining as the characters figure out how to get what they want from other people, even if it involves a little forgery, blackmail or compromises.
The film makes light of coming out, domineering Jewish mothers and traditional family values, skewering some of the very stereotypes it reinforces. But this undemanding and entertaining comedy also shows how gay men can assert themselves and create a non traditional family, and get both self-respect and respect from others in the process.
The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival unspools Nov. 4-19 at various locations. For tickets, lineup and more information, visit: http://pjff.org/2016-2017-festival-lineup/.
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