A review of “Mostly Martha” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG for adult situations, mild language

Run Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

 

 

The German film industry is not defined by its comedy, nor is it associated with sumptuous cuisine.  “Martha” merges both subtle humor and the glory of food, a traditional pairing that manages to work despite the guttural utterings of the German language.

Wallow in the luscious visuals of a top-notch kitchen at work.  Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck) is the ultimate perfectionist.  As the head chef of chic Hamburg eatery Lido, Martha obsesses over every morsel of food that leaves her spotless kitchen, headed for the table of yet another faithful foodie.  At the end of her work day, Martha retreats to her perfect, sterile apartment to cook simple, flawless meals – for one. 

Tragedy alters the landscape when Martha’s younger sister is killed in a car accident, leaving Martha to care for her eight-year old niece Lina (Maxime Foerste).  Since Martha lives for her work and knows nothing about children, the new arrangement is doomed.  Martha can’t manage the simplest parental task of getting Lina to school on time.  Lina herself doesn’t help matters, refusing to eat and shunning discussions regarding her unbearable loss.

With no easy childcare alternatives in sight, Martha is forced to bring Lina to the restaurant, where the child performs menial kitchen tasks and stays up until the wee hours.  Martha’s boss unexpectedly hires an Italian sous-chef (Sergio Castellitto as Mario) to fill the void left by Martha’s erratic absences, which only serves to enrage the uber-controlling head chef.

 

The beauty of “Martha” is watching Martha’s iron reserve gradually fall away, revealing the human being, and the woman, beneath. Mario’s presence lends the film an element of joy, laughter, and Italian joie-de-vivre that’s altogether irresistible.  On the down side, Foerste is less than engaging, and the tired storyline feels too familiar, a la “Kolya”, “Heidi”, “About a Boy”, etc. 

Bird’s eye visuals of top-notch food prep are breathtaking - I can’t recommend watching “Martha” on an empty stomach.  The beautifully choreographed kitchen ballet is simple but absorbing, but the story is overwhelmed by its score - a euphony of symphonic sounds.