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Germany 2001
Directed by
Sandra Nettelbeck
105 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Mostly Martha

Synopsis: Martha is a an uptight, upmarket chef who is only able to communicate with people through the dishes she prepares. When her sister is killed in a car accident she has to get used to coping with an 8 year old niece who comes to live with her. Then her boss employs an assistant chef (Sergio Castelitto) who is everything she's not and Martha's self-control begins to unravel.

Twenty years ago Mostly Martha would have been classified as art house. Art house has moved inner city and towards a hipper audience but this well-crafted feelgood movie will still find its most appreciative audience amongst the more mature middle class sector of the film-going public.

Filmically, this is the equivalent of an elegant coffee table book - chicly-presented images, carefully chosen and with an articulate accompanying text - the combination designed to give the reader a pleasurably aesthetic dalliance with its subject. Martha, played by Martina Gedeck, who, when she smiles, looks disconcertingly like Meryl Streep, is neurotic but quaintly idiosyncratically so rather than self-destructively dysfunctional. She works in an upmarket restaurant in a spotless kitchen (neither she nor any of the kitchen staff have a speck of food on their uniforms), receives psychotherapy in a room decorated with designer furniture, drives an anonymously late model sedan, the niece she inherits is a cute-looking kid. You get the idea - realism it's not. But it is a touching story of a perfectionist and her touchy relationship with a free-spirited Italian sous-chef and her niece whom she is left to care for after the accidental death of her sister .

Nettelbeck also wrote this (and has done a good job, structuring her story so that it is clear yet understated) and there are grounds to identify this as a decidedly "feminine" film - aside from the fact that is mostly about a female character (and with the exception of Castillitto the main cast is largely female), there is a pervasive romanticism infusing every aspect with extended shots of delicious-looking, designer dishes.

FYI: The film was given a coarser Hollywood chick-flick makeover as No Reservations (Scott Hicks, 2007) with the improbably cast Catherine Zeta-Jones and, even more improbably, Aaron Eckhart, in the leads.




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