Closing out Pride month, I am writing about, for me, the best ‘gay’ film since last year’s ‘Call Me By Your Name.’ Written and Directed by Ofir Raul Graizer, ‘The Cakemaker’ is one of those movies that got to me. After seeing the movie, I wanted to just get home and think about it in silence. It’s the story of a German baker Thomas (Tim Kalkhof, looking like a German Jonathan Groff) who falls in love with an Israeli businessman who travels monthly to Berlin. When the businessman suddenly dies in a car accident, Thomas flies to Jerusalem and gets involved in the life of the man’s widow Anat (Sarah Adler)
This is a great example of how grief ties people together. There is a lot of softness and delicacy on the film, and I was engrossed from the first frame. It speaks to me about how a connection (or disconnection) can make a lasting impact in one’s life, and the different ways we deal with grief. Thomas changes Anat’s life for he better, and while there’s a certain plot point in there that I theoretically did not believe in, thee are fine actors that I swallowed it whole. Kalkhof is fantastic here, muted and passive, yet expressing powerful emotions in a nod and a glance, and Adler a formative match, vulnerable, determined, sympathetic. It shows us realities in modern day Israel – the dichotomy of being religious and liberal, of tradition and acceptance. By the end, I was sobbing, and I didn’t know why. Of course, I knew it was because of the sheer beauty of the film.
I wanted to really like Chris Miera’s Ein Weg (Paths) and it took me a while to do so. It’s painfully slow, and I am not really averse to slow films, but it’s opening chapter could lose a lot of people, and it almost lost me. The film is a story about a couple. Andreas and Martin (Mike Hoffman and Matthias Reinhardt) who are separating after decades of being together. You can feel the intimacy, but not really much if the pain…until you get to the second chapter and Miera shows you how they got together and fell in love. This is one of those instances wherein editing makes a difference – you do not feel much empathy for the couple in the beginning part of the film because you do not have anything to go by. The slowness of the film really felt like a burden, and there were numerous times I thought about abandoning the film. But I finished it, and I wish I felt it was more satisfying.
It is always refreshing to find gay coming-of-age flicks, and I am always fascinated how our stories are always similar, but set in our different geographical and cultural elements. ‘Center Of My World’ (Die Mitte der Welt) is set in rural Germany and is about Phil,(Louis Hoffman) a teenager who experiences his first love when another kid from out of town (Nicholas, played by Jannik Schumann) moves in. But Director Jkob Erwa’s film is a little more than that. Adapted from the German novel by Andreas Steinhofel, it also deals with Phil’s familial issues – he grew up in an ancestral castle-like house without a father, and his sister can talk to animals. I didn’t like that part of the story. to be honest, and wished it had centered more about the tender romance between Phil and Nicholas. When they got torn apart at the end, I was quite touched, although, really, their story did not have much depth. I credit more the performances of the actors, especially Schumann who has a wide-eyed vulnerability that expresses more than the screenplay gave him. I also thought the film was a little overlong, with self-indulgent shots that are unnecessary. Your mileage may vary here, but for me, it’s a marginal thumbs up – mostly for the acting.
Some quick hits on some flicks.
I really liked Die Geschwiter (Brother and Sister) which is set in Berlin and touches upon a couple of issues. Written and Directed by Jan Kruger, it is the story of a gay man who finds himself involved in the life of a brother and sister who are illegal refugees from Poland and Russia. He initially gives them a place to stay, then he gets romantically involved with the brother, but are they really just brother and sister? And is he really gay, or is he just being used? We never really get direct answers for some of these questions, and that’s not the point perhaps. We get a glimpse of life where refugees are discriminated, and I learn here that this type of thing doesn’t just happen in America. This was thought provoking and also engrossing.
From France comes Baisers Caches (Hidden Kisses) which is about a gay teenager from suburban France. It is a story about young love, homophobia, bullying. This was really disturbing to me – do these stories still exist in this day and age? I thought the younger generation now do not care about the sexual orientation of people their age? While the film does provide a nice ending, I was really bothered by some of the bullying scenes. At least it gives a positive message for this younger generation.
‘Toni Erdmann’ was Germany’s submission for the Academy Awards last year, and I think it is easily one of last year’s best movies, regardless of what country it came from. It is also one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time as there were times I found myself literally laughing out loud while watching it.
Written and Directed by Maren Ade, the movie is about a father, Winfried (Peter Simonischek) and his adult daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) They have a very complicated relationship, and it has gotten to a point where Winfried thinks he has ceased to know his own daughter. So he visits her in Buacharest, where she is working, and starts to stalk her, at times disguised as his alter ego Toni Erdmann. But the movie is much more than that, it i an exploration of how we as adults treat and disregard our parents. Remember when we were kids and everything our parents did embarrassed us? Well, magnify that situation hundred-fold – that’s one of the premises of this movie. You see Winfred’s character and I have to admit that in the beginning I found the character a pest, as he inserts himself into his daughter’s life coarsely. Simonischek wisely plays the character without too much charm, and as the film unfolds, we get to see what he is doing and where he is coming from, and it happens organically. Not that Hüller’s Ines is an angel, either – we see her as a very strong independent modern woman, and is also a damaged one. We see both characters heal each other.
There are a couple of situations here that are laugh out loud funny. I won’t spoil it, but they involve Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Love You,’ petit fours, and a naked brunch. This film is both enjoyable and contemplative, and depending on your mood, will hit your heart and your funny bone both. I read somewhere that Hollywood is planning to remake it with Jack Nicholson, and that idea both scares and excites me, depending on my mood.
Father-Son movies touch me more than usual, and Polish/German Director Piotr Lewandowski’s film ‘Jonathan’ hits me right to my core. Watching it felt like being punched in the stomach. Jonathan is a young man who is taking care of her father, who is terminally ill with cancer, on his second stage of chemotherapy. He has given up his life and made sacrifices to take care of his father. But his father has one big secret he hasn’t told Jonathan: he is gay. And this movie demonstrates that in order to let go of life, you have to put life in one last time.
Jonathan is played by Jannis Niewohner, and he is a most beautiful male specimen. Lewandowski knows this and photographs him in the best light – you cannot help but fall in love with his character: handsome and sensitive, caring for his ill father. When the secret is finally revealed to him, you feel his anguish, and it doesn’t hurt that Niewohner is a fantastic actor, taking you to different emotional journeys throughout the film. But ultimately, the film is about someone waiting to pass, and I don’t know if I could bear watching this film again. But if you are in the mood to make sure you still feel your heart, nothing is better.
‘Nachthelle,’ in German means ‘Bright Star’ in English. It is also a title of the film by Florian Gottschick about four people stuck in a house in East Germany. (I wonder if East Germany looks as drab as how the film photographed it) Anna Bergmann (Anna Grisebach)goes back to her childhood home with her younger boyfriend Stefan (Vladimir Burkalov) and while there, she sees her ex-boyfriend Bernd (Benno Fuehrmann) and his psychologist boyfriend Marc (Kai Ivo Baulitz) What happens next is weird – Anna asks the guys to stay for the night and a secret is revealed. And what happens after is even weirder, involving an accident with Anna, and then we see another version of Anna seeing another version of events that just took place. Maybe I am dense, but I never really fully understood what really happened, but I guess it shouldn’t matter, and maybe that’s not the whole point of the movie. Maybe it’s a German psychology thing that I do not know about (They quote Kafka) or something about the poem that the title is based on. But what is on screen is interesting enough, I guess, and Grisebach is a great engaging actress that achieves close to making you believe everything going on – even if you don’t understand it.