In the novel, “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” we learn that Eskimos have more than one hundred words for what is wet, white, and falls from the sky in cold weather. The current-day Avant Garde among sex scholars can barely contain its enthusiasm for the claim that certain indigenous groups identify over a hundred “genders” that describe their appetites. It costs little for these bright lights to devote their professional lives to peering over the shoulders of the cultures of others, but the cheap thrills ebb, and the cheerleaders go inarticulate when it comes to the subject of bisexuality. It appears that bisexuality has existed in all cultures, classes, and races throughout history. If there is any certitude or rectitude in current academic approaches to bisexuality, it takes the form of declarations that bisexuals are kidding no one but themselves. They’d just better face facts: they are “really” gay.
Could it be that among a certain knowing social layer, the pregnant pause in the conversation is due to bisexuality being a poor fit for the hallowed nuclear family, the cornerstone of social relations in a profit-mad system that commodifies everything, including love? Consequently, the nuclear family is where women and children lose not only their power, but their very identities, and men, their veracity, dignity, honor, and respect.
If you’re heterosexual, you may not be happy with this paradigm, but like non-religious Jews living in Israel who put up with their families’, friends’, and neighbors’ religious fetishism and shunning, at least you know what disappointments you are likely to stumble over. If you’re homosexual and looking to join the club that will now have you as a member thanks to new legislation, you can subject your affectional relationship to the rigors of marriage and family life, reaping what benefits accrue, and suffering through its boilerplate indignities. Bisexuality, on the other hand, does not lend itself to either monogamy or “settling down” in a spirit of peaceful coexistence with industry expectation that you’ll keep up with the (heterosexual) Joneses.
If bisexuality is authentic (and not just one more closet design), does it issue from a nagging if narcissistic need to flatter oneself by going for a broadened fan base that extends to both sexes, or, is it more a function of what the dancer Richard Cragun once posed to me? Quoting his mentor, choreographer John Cranko, Ricky asked, “Why are we more inclined to ask ‘Whom do you love?’ than ‘Do you love?’”
“The Cakemaker” tenders the likelihood that Cragun and Cranko’s shared query suggests the answer. The film is set in two countries—Germany and Israel—the Gemini twin nation states where the two sides of the coin of hatred and suspicion can be observed under a surface covering of an iron and ironic integument of Order. Irrational and hurtful consequences result for those who embrace it, as well as those who reluctantly put up with it. The film introduces us to both.
When Thomas, who has no parents, and has accepted his Grandmother’s counsel that he should be grateful for what good comes his way, learns that Oren has been killed in an accident, he cannot stop himself. He sets out to mitigate his loss through a (covert) connection to his lover’s widow, and finds his way to the Jerusalem café she has recently opened. It is newly certificated as kosher, though Anat does not adhere to kashrut practices in her personal life.
Thomas gets himself hired as the café’s dishwasher. Correctness on Thomas’s part cannot overcome ignorance and a lack of awareness of orthodox Jewish practices. Such lapses reinforce what some do not trust about his German origins, and serve to jeopardize Anat’s café certification. The only “give” in this hell’s kitchen of illicit love and bereavement can be found in the bread and pastry dough that Thomas teaches a reluctant Anat how to work.
By the time that the inevitable climax arrives, with Anat’s posthumous discovery of her husband’s relationship with Thomas, we have been gifted with a trove of gentle correspondences. They are mostly of the sensual variety, thanks to cinematography (Omri Aloni) that is singular in its blend of detachment and attachment, accompanied by a heart-rending score (Dominique Charpentier). It’s so persuasive that we desperately want no tragedy to eclipse the pristine coincidence of need and affection that we find in Thomas and Anat, and in transactions with other characters. While Thomas is in a tentative, if charged conversation with Oren’s mother, her face is lit. Then, via a wordless exchange of searching looks, they acknowledge what they both know. At that crucial moment, the light goes out, and Oren’s mother’s face falls into shadow.
The enjoyment that Anat, who is at first resistant to learning to bake, finds in working the dough, leads logically to finding the sensuality in Thomas’s (at first) unyielding dough-colored skin and body. [This is a woman boss making advances toward a younger male employee. In the U.S., she’d likely soon be in court, if not in jail!] He ultimately honors her entreaties, letting go what he thought he knew about himself and his needs. We witness his recognition of what they have become with the addition of new ingredients and a quality of warmth and sensuality he has never experienced from a woman until this moment. What distinguishes her by sex is trivial compared to the power he sees, feels, and deeply needs of what is sensual in their shared humanity. His epiphany releases us to undergo a parallel catharsis.
There are two flaws in “The Cakemaker.” Anat never seems troubled or puzzled by the initial coincidence of this Berliner showing up in her small, out-of-the-way café, so soon after her husband’s death, or that he bakes the very same cookies we know (from Oren) that she adores. Also, the English translation of the film’s Hebrew title doesn’t do it justice. I don’t know the nuances of the Hebrew meaning of “The Cakemaker.” I do know that in many languages the term “maker” can also imply “master,” especially when coupled with the article, “the.” Since Thomas is a master baker, and his mastery is the gift that he brings to Anat, liberating them to love one another, I wish that the English title had been “The Cake Master.”
There is no word in our lexicon for the conundrum so tenderly and lovingly, yet truthfully plated in “The Cakemaker,” not one, not one hundred. Yet it resonates so fully, as it shows us what’s fundamentally wrong with our social order, and not just in terms of those on the outside looking in, but for anyone who has honestly interrogated him or herself to answer the question, “Do we love?”