Directed by Sandra Nettelbeck Starring Martina Gedeck, Maxime Foerste, Sergio Castellitto, August Zirner, Ulrich Thomsen
The kitchen is a space conducive to filmmaking. The rich tapestries of gourmet food, the incessant energy of the chefs and the remorseless politics of a hierarchical workplace has enticed directors from Italy, Taiwan, America and now Germany into situating intimate relationship dramas in the heart of a restaurant.
'Mostly Martha' centres on its eponymous heroine (Gedeck) who is the best cook in an unnamed, German port city. A perfectionist and neurotic in her devotion to her craft, Martha is primed for an epiphany, which the film duly delivers in the form of her eight-year-old niece (Foerste) whose mother has been killed in a car-crash.
Martha's struggling attempts at surrogate motherhood are complicated by potential romance, in the form of an architect neighbour (Thomsen) and Mario (Castellitto), the mischievous Italian chef who first unnerves her in the kitchen, and then enters her personal life as well.
So far, so standard romantic comedy, but 'Mostly Martha' adds a distinctly German sense of angst and repression to the classic girl meets two boys scenario. Martha seems genuinely dysfunctional, attending therapy and showing all the symptoms of an eating disorder. This potentially intriguing set-up is soon washed away by a tide of generally well-staged sentimentality. The growing regard between Martha and her niece and the eroding of hostilities with Mario are both familiar cinematic riffs and the film's conclusion holds very few surprises.
Having said that, the performances are strong. Gedeck shines as the lead, making the most of the script's only remotely complicated character. Looking like a wan, ascetic version of Kirstie Alley, she manages to engage sympathy for her rather cold, twitchy initial persona. Maxime Foerste is credible as the niece, while Sergio Castellitto manages to exude some Latin charm in a desperately clichéd role.
But 'Mostly Martha' determinedly avoids answering any of the hard questions about the lives of its protagonists, preferring to resolve the dilemmas with a bath of sunshine and soft-focus fulfilment. In the process it falls between the stools of romantic comedy and character-driven drama. 'Mostly Martha' is, sadly, mostly mawkish.