It's the newest tradition in art films: the food movie. Films in this genre (Babette's Feast Big Night, Like Water For Chocolate) have proven to be huge hits with art house fans. Foodies like movies. Mix some roasted quail, a little turtle soup, hire a talented cinematographer to shoot tall bottles of olive oil, and presto, you've got class. Forgive me if I'm critical. Gourmet food artfully presented doesn't whet my appetite--or guarantee a good movie. Sandra Netellbeck's first film Mostly Marthais a romantic comedy about a top chef in a four-star restaurant in Hamburg, Germany, who finds love in the kitchen. It positively turned my stomach.
Martha (Martina Gedeck) is tightly wound: a single woman and perfectionist who lives for her work. She considers herself the best chef in Germany and does not hesitate to yell at customers who dare to criticize her food. She is so controlling that her boss at the restaurant makes her see a therapist to keep her job. Martha can cook a wonderful salmon in basil sauce, but unfortunately, she cannot get along with other people. When Martha's sister dies in a car accident, her orderly world is turned upside down. She takes in her eight-year-old niece Lina, a sad, angry (and also terrifically cute) girl who refuses to eat.
Enter Mario (Sergio Castellitto), a fun-loving sous-chef who is hired to help out in the busy restaurant. The handsome Italian plays music in Martha's kitchen. He sings. He makes gnocchi. The two cooks are instantly at odds. But when the hunger-striking Lina eats Mario's spaghetti, Martha is forced to take a new look at the irritant in her kitchen. And volia, the recipe for romance is as simple as boiling an egg. Cute little Lina has to eat, and Martha, a single, professional woman at the top of her game, needs a man. Yes, that's what it boils down to: Martha needs a man.
In all fairness, Martina Gedeck is a skilled and likable actress and "Mostly Martha" is for the most part a pleasant enough film to watch. But, I'm sorry, what year is this? What has happened to the world when a romantic comedy from Germany--not Hollywood--written and directed by a female director, seems like a prescription for American family values? Why must Martha lose control of her emotions to find success and happiness?
I found myself thinking of the vastly different "Minority Report" as the credits rolled and the newly contented Martha tried on wedding gowns. The tormented Tom Cruise also finds his happiness at the end of Spielberg's film, a wife at his side, a bun in her oven. Single Martha lands herself both a husband and a little girl. The nuclear family, once again, saves the day--but it's enough to ruin your appetite.