starring Martina Gedeck, Maxime Foerste, Sergio Castellitto, August Zirner
written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck
by Walter Chaw A Bavarian Big Night, Sandra Nettelbeck's Mostly Martha joins a romantic-comedy premise with a lost-child scenario, setting it all to a leisurely pace and framing it with an eye for the handsome. Its sightlines as crisp and clean as the dishes chef Martha creates in her immaculate kitchen, the picture is as relaxed a viewing experience as any this year--a dish without many exotic ingredients (like a good Salmon dish, the film tells us), but just enough substance to forgive the froth.
Martha (Martina Gedeck) is the chef at a four-star German eatery. Lonesome and closed-off, her only means of expression is through cooking and her only connection with other people is through their enjoyment, or lack thereof, of her creations. When Martha's sister dies, leaving behind a troubled little moppet named Lina (Maxime Foerste) for Martha's icy ministrations, it can only be a matter of time before Martha learns to give more freely of herself and her emotions to not only Lina, but also a pair of suitors: sous chef Mario (a warm Sergio Castellitto), and downstairs neighbour and architect Sam (Ulrich Thomsen).
With kitchen scenes playing as obvious and light-hearted metaphors for states of mind and relationships, Mostly Martha leaves a few elements hanging that it probably should have tidied (particularly the fate of kindly Sam), though it moves along with the kind of well-meaning, golden-cast warmth that films of this genre seem to produce by the megawatt. Immediately forgettable (should I say, with a negligible aftertaste?), Mostly Martha is a pleasant time spent in the company of slightly-disturbed folks who find their way with good humour and a minimum of contrivance (as if that weren't contrivance enough). Their triumphs as small in this way as their setbacks, the picture is a nice afternoon diversion. Better put, Mostly Martha is a minimally satisfying, light appetizer for a main course that one hopes is richer and meatier. Originally published: September 20, 2002.