December 10, 2002 -- "Mostly Martha" is serio-comic cinematic souffle that is baked almost to perfection by writer-director Sandra Nettelbeck. While Germany is not noted for its gastronomic delights, this mouthwatering romantic comedy from Deutschland is every bit the equal of such food-oriented films as "Chocolat," "Tortilla Soup," "Eat Drink Man Woman," "Like Water for Chocolate" and "Soul Food."
Martina Gedeck stars as Martha, an outstanding chef, but a very focused and emotionally cool woman. She runs the kitchen of an upscale restaurant like her own personal kingdom. Her carefully constructed existence is measured exactly to the last cup and teaspoon. Everything is neatly compartmentalized. But she is at the point of boiling over. She needs frequent breaks in the cooler to get away from the stress of her job and to maintain her carefully constructed façade. She begins losing control when she learns of her sister's death. Even more strain occurs when she takes in her niece, Lina (Maxime Foerste), to care for until she can find the girl's estranged father.
Martha is ill-equipped for motherhood, but gradually she begins to adjust to Lina and vice versa. Another shock to her world comes in the form of a new chef, an Italian one at that, who comes to work in her kitchen. The new chef, Mario (Sergio Castellitto of "The Big Blue") has the exact opposite of Martha's precise, structured cooking style. He is not punctual and he is not precise. He sings and has fun in the kitchen, kidding around with the cooks. He is as carefree as Martha is uptight. She feels threatened by him. Eventually there is a resolution to the various problems presented in the story, but many of these resolutions come at the very end of the film, while the credits are rolling, in a kind of rushed collage of images.
Other than the abrupt, rushed ending, the rest of the movie is meticulously crafted. It is well-written, directed and acted. The characters are fully developed. One of the many interesting characters in the film is Martha's psychiatrist, who has a very hard time trying to figure out what is wrong with Martha. She constantly talks about recipes and she cooks for him, which doesn't help him understand her at all. A funny bonus scene involving the psychiatrist appears during the credits at the end of the film. Martha's answer to all problems is cooking. One of the reasons she has a hard time reaching Lina is that Lina will not eat her cooking. When Lina shows a liking for Mario's cooking, that helps break the logjam of Lina's complex relationship to Martha. Although this is a film of intense, and sometimes troubling emotions, it also has a good measure of comedy, which, combined with a small portion of romance, creates just the right flavor. This film rates a B+, but don't see it on an empty stomach.
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