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flick pick | Mostly Martha 2001
Directed + written by: Sandra Nettelbeck
Starring: Martina Gedeck, Maxime Foerste, Sergio Castellito
Language: German and Italian [with English subtitles]
Look for it at the video store under: foreign [Germany], comedy, drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: feel-good, lovey
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis In the kitchen of the upscale German restaurant in which she works as head chef, Martha is used to having things her way. She goes to painstaking efforts to create marvelous dishes that are pure perfection to the palate -- and on the very rare occasions when some customer who doesn't know much about fine food has the gall to criticize her cooking, Martha has a pesky tendency to march out from the kitchen and tell the diner exactly why he's wrong. It's a good thing she's such a genius with ingredients, because the restaurant's owner is getting a little tired of having to apologize to berated customers for Martha's bad temper. Martha just doesn't see why she should make the effort to accommodate stupid people whose needs, wants and ideas conflict with her own. This stubbornness and (let's face it) self-absorption extends into her personal life as well, which is a big part of why Martha lives alone. But when her sister is killed in a car accident, Martha finds herself having to deal with a new arrival in her life: eight-year-old Lina, her sister's daughter. No one knows much about Lina's father, except that he's Italian, so Martha agrees to look after her niece, at least until someone can track down Lina's dad. Martha soon finds that caring for Lina involves far more than just offering her a bed at night, and between Martha's hectic, late-night work schedule and Lina's acting out, Martha begins to feel seriously out-of-control of her life. When the restaurant owner brings in a sous-chef to give Martha a hand in the kitchen, Martha's not at all looking forward to more upheaval. Mario is pretty much Martha's worst nightmare, as he's laidback, spontaneous, way too charming, and a great cook with some strong culinary ideas of his own. But as it turns out, he's exactly what both Martha and Lina need right now.

Review There are some folks out there who will shun any movie that has subtitles, because in their minds, the presence of subtitles means Serious Film, and Serious Films require too much thinking and give too little actual enjoyment in return. It's a shame, because they're missing out on films like Mostly Martha, which, subtitles aside, is a pure and effortless joy to watch from beginning to end. The storyline has been done before -- it's another in a long line of movies about self-absorbed workaholics who find it takes the unexpected arrival of a child in their lives to make them realize what's really important. But this movie is just so well-crafted and acted; Martina Gedeck manages to make control-freak Martha sympathetic even when she's being cold and overly demanding, Maxime Foerste's portrayal of Lina resists the usual child actor cutesy curse, and Sergio Castellito Mario is just impossible not to adore. Best of all, writer-director Sandra Nettelbeck lets the characters' relationships develop gradually in a manner that feels completely natural and believable -- which means that when you get your inevitable feel-good ending (trust me, it's no spoiler for me to tell you that), that smile that creeps over your face feels well-earned, not manipulated. Like my very favorite kind of meal, Mostly Martha takes simple ingredients and puts them together really, really well. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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