Mostly Martha


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Some films glow with a golden light that starts off dim, like a pre-dawn awakening, and slowly gathers for the glorious finale. Mostly Martha is like that, but, for the love of all things rich and true, why saddle it with a turn-off title that slips out of the mind faster than a French flea?

Food is sexy (Like Water For Chocolate). Food is fun (Big Night). Food is passionate (Dinner Rush). Food is fulfilling (Babette's Feast). Remember the foreplay meal in Tom Jones? Don't! You'll do yourself an injury.

Mostly Martha is a subtle, beautifully realised tale of a chef who learns to let go. Martha lives for food. She runs her kitchen with controlled precision, if that is not a contradiction in terms. Her relationship with the restaurant manager is prickly. If she wasn't the best, she wouldn't be there. She'd be fired. Instead, she is ordered to go to a therapist, who is forced to listen to her recipes.

This is Germany, where customers demand perfection. When their views differ with the chef, Martha comes storming out and causes a scene. She needs to loosen up and so the boss hires Mario (Sergio Castellitto), an Italian chef, whose style is charming, light hearted and flirtatious. Martha, of course, is appalled. Her control is about to be undermined by a man who sings in the kitchen.

At the same time, her sister is killed in a car crash and Lina (Maxime Foerste), her eight-year niece, comes to live in her apartment. She is not used to children. She is not used to sharing her space, her time, her life with anyone and Lina is not easy. The relationship starts off badly and gets worse.

Writer/director Sandra Nettlebeck has created a film of genuine delight, with a subtlety that could only be European. The feelgood factor, a staple of Hollywood, is binned in favour of emotional truth and the complexities of human nature. Martina Gedeck, as Martha, gives a performance that combines an obsessional personality with strength and sensuality. How can you be sexy and severe, difficult and delicious, at the same time? She does it and she does more. She makes you understand how hard it is to be a woman, to be serious and to find your heart melting, when the only safe place in the world is the cold store at the kitchen.

Chefs may be temperamental, but they are never dull.

Reviewed on: 15 May 2003
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The chef who likes her own way is turned upside down by a stroppy niece and a flirtatious Italian.
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Director: Sandra Nettlebeck

Writer: Sandra Nettlebeck

Starring: Martina Gedeck, Maxime Foerste, Sergio Castellitto, August Zirner, Sibylle Canonica, Katja Studt, Antonio Wannek

Year: 2001

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Italy/Germany/ Austria/Switzerland


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