Mostly Martha

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 07/26/04 01:15:22

"Mostly Marvelous!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2002: The eponymous Martha (Martina Gedeck) in writer/director Sandra Nettelbeck's delightful confection is a neurotic, self-contained German chef ("I'm not compulsive, I'm precise"), who periodically hides in a walk-in freezer rather than having to interact with her staff and customers. When she does interact, the customer is far from always right: The diner who dares to question Martha's approach to cooking not only won't get the meal changed to his standards, he might find himself with a raw steak in his lap.

Martha's world is thrown out of balance when her sister dies in a car accident, forcing her to leave her well-ordered kitchen to make time and a home for her orphaned niece, Lina (Maxime Foerste). Ill-suited to the job of surrogate parenting, Martha constantly locks horns with the understandably troubled Lina, all the while searching for the little girl's father, her sister's estranged husband.

When the restaurant's owner brings in a charming and exuberant Italian chef, Mario (Sergio Castellitto) to take up the slack, Martha of course locks horns with him, as well, until it becomes clear that Mario is the only one who seems to be able to get through to Lina.

Of course, it's not a total surprise that the ebullient Mario finally get through to Martha, too, cracking her hard shell and teaching her that life, like cooking, is art, not science.

Going in to the screening expecting, at most, a trifle, I was delighted to find Mostly Martha in actuality a highly entertaining, and even moving, piece of cinema, beautifully written and acted, peopled with characters for whom we give a great deal of care.

Like all the very best of the food-centric movies (Eat Drink Man Woman, Big Night, Babette's Feast), Mostly Martha is, at its heart, about the power and the importance of family, friendship, and fabulous food.

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