Mostly Martha

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 08/22/02 09:19:32

"What a woman really needs is a good man."
3 stars (Average)

Who would think that a movie about food would also be a movie about love. Touted as a contender for this years Best Foreign Film Oscar® Nomination, Mostly Martha defies a traditional big-hearted food comedy or a sensual food romance. The emotionally fierce drama sometimes falls prey to melodramatic clichés but on the whole presents a sophisticated drama that lingers over the pleasure of fine food and the chef as the center of any good restaurant. An overworked woman, an orphan (a little girl at that), and an Italian chef and I’m thinking, this movie is going to be so sweet, I’ll need to brush between courses.

I wasn’t disappointed. Despite the hard German edge of the film and the seemingly comedic element of the well placed Italian chef, Mario (Sergio Castellito) – the story moved along fairly predictable turns. Mario’s just got a gift for making people happy but he’s a bit of a know it all. Martha’s (Martina Gedeck) German precision has enabled her to be a fine, methodical chef. Mario’s southern Italian generosity comes off as disrespectful but is a welcome change of pace for the kitchen staff used to Martha’s way.

You just know Mario’s going to get his way and after lots of head-butting, Martha eventually succumbs to his presence and his seduction. When an Italian food ends up on the menu, Martha feels her days are numbered. She’s not worried, she’s one of the best chefs in Germany and she knows she can go anywhere.

Her life gets complicated when her sister and brother-in-law die in an auto accident and Martha has to take in her niece, Lina, who is nothing but trouble. She won’t eat, won’t to go to school and just wants to go home. Cue the “awwwww…” Mario seems to understand children and gets Lina to eat which endears him to Martha and the romance begins.

What this movie is really about is how men always get their way over women. Italian men are notorious womanizers and I just don’t have the stomach for that kind of thing. Martha normalizes her unconditional arrangement by pairing up with the man who not only moves into her kitchen and immediately takes control of it, but also her life.

Martha may be saying “no”, but you know, she really means, “yes.” And Mario’s going to keep playing his little song and dance until he gets the prize.

Watching a family emerge out of nothing is an interesting process to watch. The pressures of the heart force Martha to make choices she might not have made otherwise. And while she isn’t happy to see her normal routine falling apart, the prospect of husband and child who have all chosen to be together, when not out of marriage or birth is enough of a motivation to give it a go.

So I wasn’t thrilled by the story. I loved the scenes in the restaurant, especially where Martha is berating the customers that dare to question the readiness of her food. One customer keeps demanding a rarer steak and wondering aloud if the chef even knows what rare is. Martha is a master chef and unlike the restaurant owner who wants to maintain good customer relations, Martha wants to defend her reputation. She comes screaming out of the kitchen and slams a raw steak on the table and says that she will never serve him again. And the acting is really superb, even ten year old Maxime Foerste’s performance as Martha’s niece, Lina.

This is definitely a film for foodies who can’t stop worshipping their favorite chefs. I get a little put off when a perfectly good movie about a single, headstrong woman who needs to make a difficult life choice, lets a man come in and solve all her problems but that’s just because I hang out with too many lesbians. I never once really felt a pang of bittersweet sorrow, or joy. I was coolly detached from the film and didn’t like the obvious pulls on my heartstrings. I would rather she had just been hard all the way through, like Gena Rowlands in GLORIA. But I can see that it’s a well-made film, so I won’t ding it too hard.

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