[box cover]

Mostly Martha

Martha (Martina Gedeck) is a master chef. So good, in fact, that her employer has yet to fire her for her notoriously temperamental behavior — after all, she is not above entering the dining room to lecture complaining patrons on the finer points of the culinary arts. But beyond cooking, Martha has little in the way of a life. She sees a therapist (a condition of her employment), but she talks of nothing but food. She does not date, she rarely goes out, and she's often uncomfortable around other people. But when her sister dies in a horrific car accident, the attractive cook finds herself saddled with her eight-year-old niece Lina (Maxime Foerste), and she soon discovers she doesn't have an iota of maternal instinct to offer the child. What's worse, Martha's restaurant has hired a second chef, Mario (Sergio Castellitto), a fun-loving Italian who embraces the sensuality of food — which is diametrically opposed to Martha's strict, measured approach to haute cuisine. But as Martha finds herself at wit's end with Lina, she also discovers that charming Mario has a way with the traumatized young girl, making a connection that Martha has yet to comprehend. A German-language film that earned strong notices on the U.S. art-house circuit (if not a supportive box-office), Mostly Martha is a warm, heartfelt story about three isolated people who (surprise) find that they make the most sense as a family unit. Credit writer/director Sandra Nettelbeck for playing the script against formula — the standard Hollywood weepie would have the niece dumped on a man who is an uptight chef, with a woman entering the picture to provide the emotional awareness the other two lack. But instead of men vs. women, Mostly Martha plays it Italian vs. German (albeit a continental stereotype), as Mario plies young Lina with food, humor, and sensitivity, and inevitably later makes an equal impression on Martha. In what amounts to a three-person piece, the performances are uniformly excellent — Martina Gedeck delivers a couple of first-rate temper tantrums on her insolent diners, but she also communicates the very real pain she feels over her inability to relate to Lina. As Lina, Maxime Foerste comes up with a good turn from a child actor, withdrawn and defiant after the death of her mother. And Sergio Castellitto is a welcome presence as Mario, quick with a joke but also deeply aware of the subtle human interactions that surround him. Count on a happy ending, but wait for the first reel of credits to finish for a final, witty scene with Martha and her therapist — some things about this meticulous chef will never change. Paramount's DVD release of Mostly Martha features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from an acceptable source-print, with the original German audio in DD 5.1 and English subtitles. Keep-case.

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