Mostly Martha

(Sandra Nettelbeck, Germany, 2002)


Martha (Martina Gedeck) has familiar problems. She is single, she sees a shrink, she is obsessive about her work.

Martha is the head chef in a ritzy German restaurant. Like in many movies about men running away from their problems, the story stages a rude encounter with reality for Martha. Suddenly, she has to look after her niece, Lina (Maxine Foerste), although she is ill-equipped in terms of lifestyle and attitude to do so.

Something's got to give, and the catalyst for change will be another chef employed at the restaurant, Mario (Sergio Castellitto). He is the opposite of Martha in every respect: where she cultivates order, he revels in chaos; where she likes to work in tense silence, he enjoys loud music and good humour. But only Mario can coax Lina out of her sullen depression.

Mostly Martha, written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, is a food movie. Like other films of its ilk, it tends to break down into lists of things that supposedly make life worth living – recipes, CD tracks (by Paolo Conte or Keith Jarrett), holiday locations, clothes.

Somewhere in all this lifestyle advice for affluent, middle class consumers, there's an obligatory message about inner happiness and human connection.

There isn't much going on in this movie, but in a perfectly predictable way it's quite charming. Nettelbeck does not labour the homage to classic romantic comedies, but she nonetheless manages to recreate some of the genre's smoothest moves.

The film is carried by the personable skills of Gedeck and Castellitto. A sequence in which the nocturnal fusion of cooking and love gives way to the morning-after disillusionment of a kitchen full of dirty dishes is especially lovely.

MORE food movies: A Touch of Spice, Au petit Marguery

© Adrian Martin December 2002

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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