Mostly Martha

(Bella Martha)

Food as some element of change is an oft-used movie convention. The cooking of tasty, cultural dishes brings evokes a sense of passion in movie characters, and a sense of intense hunger in movie audiences. Because filmmakers can make good stories complemented with fantastic displays of food, they often return to this easy-to-prepare story technique, as writer/director Sandra Nettlebeck (Mammamia, Loose Ends) does here. In Nettlebeck's case, she expects too much from the food = love equation, and as a result she doesn't put enough into her story to give it any real substance. The most emotional moments of Mostly Martha happen in the last fifteen minutes and continue over the credits.

Mostly Martha is the story of Martha (Martina Gedeck, Romeo, Private Lies), a popular chef at a swanky restaurant. The control she exercises over her kitchen is the polar opposite of her control over her private life. She has no friends, does not go out, and is lonely. At work, she is a demon perfectionist, and the only reason her boss keeps her is because she is such a good chef. Two events happen that completely upend her life. Her sister dies in an auto accident, so Martha now has custody of her niece Lina (Maxime Foerste). Her assistant is about to deliver, so her boss (much to Martha's disapproval) hires Mario (Sergio Castellitto, Va Savoir, The Last Kiss), an Italian chef to help out.

Lina takes an instant disliking to Martha. She refuses to eat, is not open, and wants nothing but reunion with her absent Italian father. At work, Martha feels that Mario is trying to undermine her authority. So she acts hostile towards him, just like the way that Lina is acting towards her. What happens next is no secret. Lina and Mario will meet, and she sees in him her absent father. Mario is still being nothing but kind to Martha, and she notices the way he acts towards Lina. This redeems him in her eyes, and the two will eventually fall in love. After he introduces her to some new recipes, of course. For such a standard story, Nettlebeck sure takes her sweet time. She could eliminate fifteen minutes and come away with a film that is a little better.

People could look at Castellitto and say "man, he can speak three languages!" after recent appearances in films from Italy, France, and now Germany. Too bad that Frank Glaubrecht (The Little Polar Bear, The Commander) dubbed all of Castellitto's lines. Like most dubbed lines, the effect is distracting, especially for people who know Castellitto's voice. Gedeck is amusing as the perfectionist/control freak. Her inability to get Lina to eat and to get rid of Mario frustrate her further, and causing her to slowly go bananas. It's all very obvious and blatant, but still a little fun.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 45 minutes, German with English subtitles, Rated PG for thematic elements and language.

Back to Movies