Mostly Martha

on August 16, 2002 by Susan Green
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   Audiences will most likely savor this film for much the same reason they responded to "Babette's Feast" in 1987 or "Big Night" nine years later: gourmet food so painstakingly prepared and stunningly photographed that a moviegoer's memory might even seem to carry aromas. Although German cooking does not come readily to mind when considering the world's best cuisine, "Mostly Martha" could make Deutchland a popular destination for hungry tourists. But writer/director Sandra Nettelbeck's refreshingly schmaltz-free story is really about the heart rather than the taste buds.

   A master chef in a classy restaurant, Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck) is so obsessed with the job that her boss insists she see a therapist. The sessions involve long, detailed descriptions of mouth-watering meals that the client has crafted. Martha can't be coaxed into talking about her personal life largely because she has none, until a tragedy immerses this lovely, repressed woman in human emotions beyond the passion for perfection.

   When her sister is killed in an accident, Martha must take care of the young niece she barely knows. Lina (Maxime Foerste) is a bright but sorrowful eight-year-old who finds refuge from grief by refusing to eat--complete anathema to her aunt's belief system. At work, these developments coincide with the hiring of an Italian sous-chef named Mario (Sergio Castellitto), a gentle, gregarious soul who manages to charm Lina. Horrified that Mario could be a threat to her exalted place in the kitchen, paranoid Martha treats the poor man with contempt. But she is in for a few surprises thanks to a childcare learning curve almost as frenetic as Diane Keaton's in "Baby Boom," a far less subtle picture with similar themes. This being a tale that provides food for thought, a reluctant mother must balance tentative nurturing with fabulous nourishment. Starring Martina Gedeck, Maxime Foerste and Sergio Castellitto. Directed and written by Sandra Nettelbeck. Produced by Karl Baumgartner and Christoph Friedel. A Paramount Classics release. Comedy/Drama. German-language; subtitled. Rated PG for thematic material and mild language. Running time: 103 min

Tags: Starring Martina Gedeck, Maxime Foerste and Sergio Castellitto. Directed and written by Sandra Nettelbeck, Produced by Karl Baumgartner, Christoph Friedel, Paramount, Comedy Drama
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