Following the success of Ofir Raul Graizer’s debut feature “The Cakemaker,” acquired by Netflix in the U.S. and already optioned for a Hollywood remake, securing financing for his second film “America” was much easier. But then the pandemic came. “This made things extremely complicated,” he tells Variety.

“We shot in 2020. There were still no vaccines, so we were basically making a film when there was a sense that the world was coming to an end. This was the feeling we had: a constant anxiety attack.”

Now, “America” – a Laila Films production – will compete for the Crystal Globe award at Karlovy Vary Film Festival. With Beta Cinema handling world sales, it was produced by Itai Tamir. Michael Moshonov, Oshrat Ingedashet and Ofri Biterman star.

In “The Cakemaker,” a German baker travels to Jerusalem in search of his dead male lover’s family. This time, Eli – an Israeli swimming coach living in the U.S. – is forced to return to Tel Aviv after his father’s death. The trip is supposed to be brief, but his encounter with a childhood friend Yotam, running a flower shop with his fiancée Iris, has tragic consequences.

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“America” Courtesy of Laila Films

“Life is full of things we cannot control. As a filmmaker and writer, I am a bit of a sadist. I like putting my characters in these terrible situations, because they force you to confront who you are,” says Graizer.

“There are feelings of guilt and shame and responsibility that come with it. I have two more screenplays featuring accidents and I have been wrestling with myself to find another way to move the story along. But when something violent and unexpected happens, it changes everything. It’s something I relate to and something I am afraid of.”

Eli, harboring painful secrets from the past, is suddenly forced to acknowledge them, after running away his whole life.

“He moved to another country, changed his name. At first, all he wants to do is to sell his father’s house, to get rid of it. But he has to stay and reclaim his memories in a way, redo the garden and add color and beauty to it. His story is the story of many people I know, who also suffered from domestic violence,” says Graizer. Noting that some wounds are simply too deep to properly heal.

Still, despite all the pain, there is hope for love and connection as well, with Eli and Iris drawn to each other during a difficult time.

“It’s a beacon of light in this crazy world we are living in, full of wars, poverty and all sorts of problems that will probably never go away. I want to hang onto it,” adds Graizer, who reveled in his romantic comedy-like flower shop setting.

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Ofir Raul Graizer (right) on the set of “America” with Oshrat Ingedashet and Ofri Biterman. Courtesy of Laila Films

“I am attracted to this kitsch, this sweetness. We need it. My husband, who is a production designer, used to have a flower shop too and this one is really inspired by his work. It’s funny, because I started to write about a man forced to come back to his homeland and then I met Iris, because I really met her when I was writing this script. She just took over, saying: ‘Hey, this is my story now!’”

Graizer found it easy to sympathize with Eli and Iris, both extremely lonely and trying to redefine who they are.

“I have always been an outsider, always been different. In Israel, I was the only person who came out as gay in my school. And I am talking about the 1990s here,” says the Berlin-based director.

“I felt – I still do – that I don’t really belong in Israel. But I have been in Germany for 12 years now and I will always be an ‘immigrant,’ a ‘foreigner,’ a ‘Jew.’ I can’t just be Ofir. I try, but we are constantly reminded of our race, religion, nationality.”

But there is hope for his broken characters, he says, as despite all the troubles new life keeps growing around them anyway. And Graizer himself is ready to move onto other things, too.

“My next film won’t have any love triangles or cakes,” he laughs.

“Well, maybe in just one scene.”