Sheldon Kirshner

Two Israeli Movies at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival

The Toronto Jewish Film Festival, which runs from May 3-13, is presenting two very different Israeli movies — The Cakemaker and Shelter. 

Ophir Graizer’s The Cakemaker, set in Jerusalem and Berlin, unfolds in German, Hebrew and English. A love story with a twist, this splendid movie will be screened on May 7 and 9.

Oren (Roy Miller), a town planner from Israel, is employed by an Israeli-German company. When he visits Berlin,  which is quite often, he stops at a small cafe owned and operated by Thomas (Tim Kalkhof), a pastry chef whose delectable Black Forest cake and sugar cookies he adores. But a sweet tooth is not the only reason that brings Oren, a married man with a child, to the cafe. He likes Thomas, a taciturn person who reciprocates his sentiments. In the first scene, they are already making love.

When Oren stops calling him, Thomas is puzzled and goes to Israel to make further inquiries. He drops into Oren’s wife’s cafe in Jerusalem and asks her, Anat (Sarah Adler), for a job. Thomas, having discovered that Oren is dead, wants to be as close to his family as possible. Anat has no openings, but eventually, she offers him employment as a dishwasher and vegetables cutter. He accepts with alacrity.

With the passage of time, Anat learns that Thomas is a supremely talented baker. Soon, he’s churning out delicious cakes, tortes and cookies for Anat’s clientele, while learning to appreciate Israeli food. When she invites him for a Sabbath dinner at her house, he brings a Black Forest cake. Thomas, however, may be a liability. Oren’s brother, Motti (Zohar Strauss), an Orthodox Jew, warns her she may lose her kosher certificate if she continues employing Thomas, whose knowledge of Jewish dietary laws is next to nil.

Gradually, she begins to suspect that Thomas and her late husband may have had a romantic relationship. Nonetheless, Anat develops a crush on Thomas. While they’re in the kitchen filling a big order for cakes, she makes a pass at him. His response is lukewarm, but soon they become lovers, Thomas’ preference for males notwithstanding.

So far, Thomas’ master plan is letter perfect. He’s grown close to Anat and her young son, Itai. And Oren’s mother has taken a liking to him. She teaches him how to cook stuffed red peppers and invites him to inspect Oren’s former room. In effect, Thomas has insinuated himself into Oren’s family, a substitute for Oren himself.

Anat, having become comfortable in Thomas’ presence, sheds more light on Oren. But when she finds out what Oren had in mind before he died, she reassesses her relations with Thomas.

Buttressed by a fine cast and a compelling script, The Cakemaker draws a viewer into its vortex of conflicting emotions.

Eran Riklis’ newest movie, Shelter, contains the elements of a serviceable espionage thriller — betrayal, suspense and a deadly shoot-out.

An Israeli-German co-production scheduled to be screened on May 5 , it’s set in a variety of locales, but primarily in Hamburg, where a Mossad operative is assigned to the task of ensuring that a Lebanese agent working for Israel will live to see another day.

Mona (Golshifteh Farahani), the Lebanese turncoat, has undergone extensive plastic surgery to give her a new identity so that she can start a new life in Canada. For the next two weeks, she will be guarded by Naomi (Neta Riskin), a former agent who’s agreed to accept one last assignment from  Gad (Lior Ashkenazi), a senior Mossad desk man.

Mona is in dire danger. Having fallen out with her husband, a senior Hezbollah leader, she offered her services to Israel, which obtained excellent information from her. Now Israel has an obligation to protect her and facilitate her trip to Canada.

The safehouse in Hamburg where Mona and Naomi are holed up is supposedly immune from attack. Yet Mona, her head covered with bandages from surgery, is worried. “I will never make it out of here,” she says. The atmosphere, already heavy with dread, is exacerbated by Mona’s bigotry. “My father always said, ‘Don’t trust the Jews,'” she says, adding that she personally respects Jews.

The scene shifts to Hezbollah headquarters in Beirut, where her ex-husband issues an order for her assassination. A German informer has informed Hezbollah that Mona, referred to as the “package,” is definitely in Germany.

Back at the safehouse, Mona and Naomi trade stories and bond.

Naomi still grieves over the death of her husband, who was accidentally gunned down by Hezbollah when she, in fact, was its target. Naomi, too, hopes to give birth to a child by means of a donor.

Mona is disillusioned with the lovers she has had, and she misses her son, who’s in Lebanon. She tells Naomi she agreed to work for Israel because it “pushes all the right buttons,” whatever that means.

The film builds to a climax too early and then deflates, inviting unfavorable comparisons with one of  Riklis’ previous movies, The Lemon Tree. Riskin and Farahani, however, deliver persuasive performances.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,