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Interview: Ofir Raul Grazier on his Oscar hopeful "The Cakemaker"

An abridged version of this interview was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad

Ofir Raul GrazierThe Oscars are coming and with them, renewed attention for some of the year’s most memorable films. One of this past summer’s sleeper hits was The Cakemaker, an LGBT drama that’s just been released on DVD / Blu-Ray. The tiny but prolific distributor Strand Releasing, who have released many gay favorites, have been in business for almost 30 years now and, if you don’t adjust for inflation, The Cakemaker quietly turned into their biggest box office hit ever this summer. The drama about a grieving gay German man who seeks out the widow of his lover (who was unaware of her husband’s affair) earned nearly a million at arthouse box offices across the U.S!

After winning Best Picture at the Ophir Awards in Israel, it became the country's submission for Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film category. We recently caught up with its director Ofir Raul Grazier. Our interview follows, edited for clarity and length.

NATHANIEL: The Cakemaker is your feature debut. Was that terrifying for you or totally natural on set? 

OFIR RAUL GRAIZER: It was a bit scary, of course, because the amount of responsibility is huge. The producers,  the crew, the actors --  I was thinking about all of that more than the film itself. But once the camera was rolling it felt quite natural. I love to do this. This is my passion. I managed to enjoy shooting. Everything between the shots was a nightmare [Laughs]...

But I enjoyed the process. [Wistful] And to have this guy kneading dough before my eyes or two people in a kitchen making love - I just loved it.

Some of the most beautiful moments in The Cakemaker are just watchful with no dialogue. This surprised me since first time filmmakers often overwrite. You almost did the opposite! [Laughs]

It specifically felt right for this movie because it's a movie about observation and distance and trying to get close. [Thomas and his lover's wife] can't really talk. They don't speak the same language so they manage with a little bit of English. But they way they communicate is by baking and through physical things. It's also about looking at things you can't reach or touch. 

I was wondering about the casting. A lot of gay cinema is cast in such a way that you know the filmmakers are thinking of sex appeal. These characters felt more like everyday people. Was that intentional or...

GRAZIER: For sure. I don't want to make soft porn about beautiful guys having sex in a kitchen. Tim Kalkhof [the lead actor] is actually quite thin and well-built in real life. I told him ‘you have to be a little bit chubby. Thomas is a baker, he eats bread and cake’. I think he gained 20 lbs. It doesn’t interest me to make a movie about beautiful men. But I do think the actors are beautiful and sensual.

Agreed. They're attractive but I just meant it doesn't feel like who you would normally see as leads.

I understand what you are talking about and it was very intentional. When we did the costume design and hair it was all a choice. I wanted the hair to never have gel, I didn't want them wearing makeup; real people, normal people, not models.

NATHANIEL: A lot of the more political and religious elements of The Cakemaker might be lost on some Americans who aren't Jewish. We understand the kosher certificate is important to this particular story but is that a common issue in Israel, that cafes have them?

GRAZIER: I didn't want to overload the film with technical information. It's not very interesting but it is a fact of having a cafe or restaurant in Jerusalem. If you don't have a kosher certificate you will have less clients. This is an issue because it allows control. Years and years ago it was private, people would go to bakers they trusted because they were also religious. It's not about trust or belief today. It's about bureaucracy and official organizations and control... it's a big problem. 

NATHANIEL: I ask about this because I heard that you've sold the rights for an American remake. That struck me as odd because so much of the story is contextual with the Cakemaker being German and the restaurant being kosher. Is the remake just not going to have the more political and religious elements? 

GRAZIER: I'm getting updates on the development. I have the possibility to direct it but I'm not sure I will. The remake will be more about the basic premise. 

NATHANIEL: I have to tell you that I had an intense personal memory while watching this movie about someone I'd lost many years ago. I was shocked to be thrown back into that headspace, that feeling of being totally unmoored by grief. The fact that Thomas just up and leaves his life to move to a foreign country makes a lot more sense if you've ever experienced sudden loss yourself. Is this an unusual reaction or do people tell you personal stories after seeing the movie?

GRAZIER: A lot. One of the most interesting things that happened to me is that in almost every screening I've had at international film festivals --I'm talking Korea, Denmark, the States, France, different countries, different cultures, different places -- almost always someone has come up to me after the screening. They tell me that they know of a similar story or they talk to me about somebody in their life who had died. It isn't always gay or romantic in nature. People have been taken emotionally with it and they're always sharing with me.

NATHANIEL: Since this is the first film, are you going to continue to make queer movies after this? 

I don't know. I'm openly gay but I don't feel I need to be put in a certain box. I just want to make movies and tell strong stories. I want my characters not to be defined by the sexual orientation but by what they do or don't do. This is, to me, meaningful and important.

I believe that I will always have gay characters in a film because I am gay and I like gay people [Laughs]. I dont want to hide and I'm not embarrassed but it's not important for me to define it, in a way. If I have a political goal regarding sexual identity it's to make it of no importance at all. The same goes for nationality or for gender or for religion -- all of these boxes. And that's in many ways what The Cakemaker is about. It's about people who aren't in the boxes.

Or they're actively moving around outside of them.

I don't think Thomas wakes up in the morning and thinks "Am I gay? Am I bisexual? Am I multisexual." The way he exists in the world, it's not relevant to him. He has love to give and this is what he's doing. 

Congrats on the Oscar submission. Have you watched any of your competition?

Most of them haven't been released yet. In order to see these movies I'd have to go to invite-only screenings and nobody invites me [Laughs]. It's very nice to be in this situation but it's very difficult because I don't have time.

Promoting your own film is taking up your whole year. But it's been so succesful.

This movie was made for $180,000 and shot in 20 days. It's a very small independent movie. Nobody believed in it so just being in this position now is making me happy and proud.

Do you have your next film lined up?

I have a couple of projects, a couple of ideas, American, Israeli, and Italian projects. I'm reading scripts. I'm open to do many things.

So you're not going to keep writing your own movies?

My fantasy is to always have someone else writing. In my fantasy my house has a cellar and in the cellar are elves writing the scripts.

Like Santa's helpers! [Laughs]

And all the scripts they write are perfect and ready to shoot. 

The Cakemaker is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Want More on the Foreign Film Oscar Category? 
Submissions Pt 1: Afghanistan through Georgia, Submissions Pt 2: Germany through Norway , Submissions Pt 3: Pakistan through Yemen, Current Predictions

Article 1: All the trailersArticle 2: All the debut directors, Article 3: All 20 female directorsArticle 4: 12 international hunks  

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Reader Comments (6)

Thank you for the interview. I love this movie. It reminds me about the period when I was in bereavement and I had done things that made no sense to others.

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJans

The choice Grazier and his actor made to make the German baker a little chubby was part of what made the character so right: Thomas was doughy like the substance that he was kneading, as if he were becoming the one thing that kept him from falling out of the world. Your question about being "unmoored by grief" captured what was so moving about this film.

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDavid W.

Nice interview. Looks like a very poignant story.

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEoghan McQ

Not that there's anything wrong with soft porn about beautiful guys having sex in a kitchen, am I ri------

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Mike - correct.

Jans -- i hear you. I was so outside myself and changed during grief.

David -- great way of looking at it.

Eoghan - worth seeing if you're curious about it.

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Definitely on my watchlist.

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

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