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:: Mostly Martha

Audiences might see this film in the light of previous food fest films such as Big Night and Babette’s Feast from several years ago. Though the taste bud trappings will be apparent, writer/director Sandra Nettelbeck gives us a story of the heart and it’s gratifying and affecting. In fact, Mostly Martha has been touted as a contender for an Oscar as the Best Foreign Film.

The story centres on an often-tempestuous relationship between Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck) and her eight-year-old niece Lina (Maxime Foerste). Martha is a leading German chef, yet she operates her kitchen with a steely determination rather than a passion. Watch for her expressions when challenged about her meals. Her personal life is shown to be virtually empty. When her sister is killed in a car accident, her niece comes to live with her. Lina is quiet and withdrawn, hardly speaking to Martha. It’s a difficult time for Martha as her restaurant boss hires another chef to help her out. Mario (Sergio Castellitto) is a bubbly Italian who brings exuberance into the workplace. When Martha can’t find a babysitter for Lina, she is forced to bring her to work.

Martha is a complex character. She is a respected chef, yet Lina adds a dimension to her persona that she never foresaw. It transforms her as a person. Mario eventually influences both Martha and Lina. The film contains moments of levity, in particular Mario’s personality and Martha’s visits to her therapist, where she shows her obsession with food. Food has filled her life, allowing room for nothing else. This is where the story shows excellent character development, in pursuing Martha’s battle for self-control, and learning that a little loss of control isn’t such a bad thing.

Much credit should go to the three principal actors, Martina Gedeck, Sergio Castellitto, and young Maxime Foerste. Gedeck is most adept as Martha. She handles all the challenges inherent – the harsh chef, the fumbling guardian, and a woman searching for something extra in her life. Castellitto is one of Italy’s best actors. He actually spoke his lines in Italian and was dubbed. His expressive performance overcame the language barrier with ease. As Lina, Maxime Foerste gives a very natural performance.

By the end of the film, you’ll see Martha finding pleasure in life as well as food. Director Sandra Nettelbeck provides a refined, sophisticated film of interesting character studies amid the pleasure of seeing a succulent array of gourmet meals across the screen. Mostly Martha is a real treat.

Screening on general release, including the KinoDendy Cinemas and Cinema Nova.