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Mostly Martha (2002)

Directed by Sandra Nettelbeck

If you're not hungry before you sit down to watch this movie, you will be after it's over. Mostly Martha is mostly set in the kitchen of a gourmet restaurant in which Martha mostly works. She is an accomplished chef and runs her kitchen with precision and discipline (did I mention that this is a German film?). She is so consumed with her work that she has no room in her life for anything else. She also sees a therapist weekly at her boss's request, but is unsure why. Let's just say that she has a tiny problem dealing with criticism.

Mostly Martha

Martha's life is mostly in order (unhappy customers notwithstanding) until her sister dies suddenly and she finds herself having to take time off from work to care of her eight-year-old niece Lina until she can contact the girl's father in Italy. Despite her efforts, Martha cannot comfort the girl and is unable to make any connection with her. She can't even get the girl to eat, which is probably the cruelest blow she could be dealt. When she returns to work, she finds that the owner of the restaurant has brought in a temporary replacement, a swarthy Italian named Mario, who usually shows up late and has little regard for a regimented workplace. Feeling jealous and threatened, Martha tries to have him fired, but grudgingly agrees to try to work with her new assistant. As the story unfolds, we see the effect that Mario's warm, fun-loving personality has on Martha and her niece.

Written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, Mostly Martha is an uncomplicated, almost predictable story. While this may seem unappealing, these are just the qualities that make the film work. By keeping the plot as simple as possible and preventing events from getting in the way, Nettelbeck is able to concentrate on the relationship between Martha and Lina, and we're allowed to watch them gradually open up to and accept each other through the gentle influence of a third party. Nettelbeck is also able to go from drama to humor and back again without glossing over important developments or dwelling on one idea for too long. Martha's tirades with unhappy customers are hilarious and are reminiscent of scenes from "Big Night", where ignorant patrons irritate the pretentious chef. One thing that is regrettable is that since the movie is in German with English subtitles, some of the charm and edge of the dialogue has probably been lost in the translation. Add to that the fact that many American moviegoers will probably shy away from Mostly Martha because they don't like to "read" movies -- their loss. Let's eat! -- Rating: $7.50

Mike Santoro -- Copyright 2002

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