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My Favourite Cake: Berlin Film Review

Lily Farhadpour and Esmail Mehrabi take a selfie in the film My Favourite Cake (Keyke Mahboobe Man), screened at the Berlin Film Festival

In My Favourite Cake, Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha tell the sweet, hilarious, tragic story of an Iranian woman who one day realizes she has every right to be free.

There’s a scene in Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha’s Iran-set My Favourite Cake (Keyke Mahboobe Man) where the film’s protagonist, 70-year-old Mahin (Lily Farhadpour), prevents a teenager from being arrested by the morality police for not wearing the hijab properly. While the officers still take her friend away on their van, the girl remains the park, where Mahin just happened to be passing by. “The more submissive you are, the more they’ll take you down,” Mahin tells the girl, adding that it’s something she has learned very recently. In fact, Mahin has been going through quite the change, and we’ve been following her – a widower whose husband died thirty years prior, and who’s been lonely and confined to her house ever since – through it all.

At the beginning of the movie, Mahin is in bed, sleeping. Soon, a phone call wakes her up, and she tiredly scolds her friend for calling her before noon. “You know I don’t fall asleep till morning,” she tells her, slowly getting out of bed. Behind her is a photo of herself in a wedding dress – one of the many remnants of her past life that are scattered throughout her house, almost a reminder of the fact that her husband’s death will always define her.

But one day, something changes for Mahin. Some friends of hers come over for tea and she finally relaxes, enjoying their company and their chats about anything from finding a man to colonoscopies and imaginary deseases. Right there and then, as her friends are joking around about what it’s like to be single and whether a man would even be useful at all, something clicks inside Mahin’s head. Though we don’t find out till later, that’s the moment our protagonist realizes that she has every right to be happy.

Soon, we follow her as she goes to a pensioners’ restaurant, where she notices a man sitting alone, and overhears him tell other customers that the reason he never brings his own food is that he doesn’t have a wife who’d cook it for him. This is enough for Mahin to make her move: having learned that the man, whose name is Faramarz (Esmail Mehrabi), is a taxi driver, she waits for him at the taxi stand, pretending to know him, and that’s where our story begins.

Faramarz ends up driving her home, and though it’s a little awkward at first, Mahin’s honesty soon gets through to Faramarz, and they immediately hit it off, their conversations brimming with affection for one another, as if they had known each other all their lives. And perhaps they have, as they are both so used to being alone that Mahin’s move was the spark they both needed to decide to be each other’s person. When Mahin invites him to her home, the taxi driver accepts. “I thought it couldn’t be wrong, after being alone all these years,” she tells him, explaining why she was so blunt; “I don’t know when it started, but no one sees me anymore,” he tells her, later on, sharing his deepest fears.

Lily Farhadpour and Esmail Mehrabi in a car in the film My Favourite Cake (Keyke Mahboobe Man), screened at the Berlin Film Festival
Lily Farhadpour and Esmail Mehrabi in a car in the film My Favourite Cake (Keyke Mahboobe Man), now at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival. (© Hamid Janipour / Berlinale)

A lot happens on that crazy night that Mahin allows herself to have. Our two friends talk, dance, drink a whole lot of wine, fix light bulbs in the garden, talk about death, laugh at the contradictions that have defined their lives till then. Above all, Mahin and Faramarz are like two kids, excited by the possibility of something that, up till a few hours before, was completely unthinkable. It’s as simple as two people enjoying each other company, and all it took was a little courage on Mahin’s side. But it was an incredibly brave first step, considering where she lives.

Eventually, our drunk duo starts dancing, and the music is loud. “What can the morality police do to us? They’ll make us marry!,” they joke, laughing around, deciding right there and then that they will spend what’s left of their lives together, as they’ve earned the right to be free from the constraints of a misogynistic society. It’s a fairytale, of course, because it’s a lot more complex than that, and we know it just as well as our protagonists do, but watching them reclaim their happiness is such a liberating, rewarding experience.

Mahin and Faramarz are adorable, and we could spend hours and hours watching them be their wonderful selves. They also share the same sense of humor, which is the same as the film’s, as My Favourite Cake is filled to the brim with hilarious jokes and clever lines that make the film such an unforgettable experience. And Lily Farhadpour and Esmail Mehrabi inhabit their characters with such ease and authenticity that it’s as if we were right there with them, witnessing the magic in real time.

In their statement for the film, directors Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha share that their country’s beliefs “forbid writers, filmmakers, and all storytellers from depicting the true lives of Iranian women behind closed doors,” and they explain their desire to make a film “in praise of women, life, and freedom.” They write that they’re aware of “crossing the red lines” with their story, adding that they “accept the consequences of this choice.” And some of these consequences have already taken place, as, on their way to the Berlin Premiere of their film, Moghadam and Sanaeeha were stopped at the airport, their passports detained, and they are currently facing a court trial in Iran.

When a filmmaker believes in something so strongly that they’re ready to risk it all for something as simple as telling a story, we owe it to them to listen. And My Favourite Cake is not as much a love story as it is a story about love: the love that Mahin one day decides to reclaim for herself, the love for a life that doesn’t need to be over after a tragedy, and the love that Moghadam and Sanaeeha share for Iranian women in the film. My Favourite Cake is a story that absolutely needs to be told: the heartwarming, hilarious, sweet, devastating, tragic tale of a woman who one day dares to be free.

My Favourite Cake premiered at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival. Read our Berlin Film Festival reviews and our list of 20 films to watch at the Berlin Film Festival!

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