Mostly Martha

If a refined palate and a love of flavour are prerequisite for a top chef, it seems control-freak obsessiveness also comes as part of the deal. That’s certainly the case with Martha Klein, who lords it over the kitchen in a swish Hamburg restaurant, but has barely no life outside it. Her boss insists she sees a therapist, which she does under duress, only to regale her shrink with a succession of recipes (now you’ll know what to do with that spare pig’s bladder). A bolt from the blue shifts the plot into motion however, when a car crash takes the life of her sister and Martha is left to look after eight-year-old Lina, who’s so traumatised by the situation she refuses to eat. Making matters worse is the arrival of a new sous-chef, who’s carefree, instinctive, instantly popular with the rest of the cooking staff, and Italian . . .
Subsequent developments adhere to the classic contours of romantic-comedy, but writer-director Sandra Nettlebeck’s film allows us to enjoy ourselves without being too pushy about it. In the title role, Martina Gedeck manages to keep the audience on her side without being too ingratiating, Maxine Foerste’s Lina is wholly bereft of child-actor precocity, and the excellent Sergio Castellitto is charming enough to get away with the affectionate stereotyping of a gesticulating Italian who cooks to the sounds of Volare. Music here is key to lightening and darkening the mood, and the roster of artists from Germany’s ECM jazz label proves an attraction in itself, from the pensive strains of cellist David Darling to the joyous uplift of Keith Jarrett’s piano quartet at their most lyrically effusive. A pleasure.
(Germany-Italy, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 106 mins.)

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