Before I saw Mostly Martha I didn’t know what to expect. It’s billed as a German rom-com so I tried to extrapolate. There’d be a bumbling Adolph Grant, a jittery Jelenka Aniston, a “You had me at Guten Tag” moment where everyone in the cinema would simultaneously vömit. There’d be a big-bottomed Hun-ny searching for Mr. Reich, and all the things that we have grown to loathe from our own rom-coms – with added umlauts. Thank God I was wrong. Martha is a celebrated chef in an exclusive restaurant, who’s aggressively passionate about her job. She’s Nigella, but with more bite; she’s Fast Eddie, but with Filo pastry and no balls. At first, it’s all going rather nicely, with laughs, a jolly jazz score and sumptuous cooking montages. Then suddenly, there’s death. Martha’s sister is in a car crash and she’s left to look after her young niece, Lina. We see the struggle Martha has to connect with her in a series of gloomy fade-to-black scenes. For a while, it’s all rather depressingly Germanic. Then, just in time, cue the arrival of new “eccentric” chef Mario, and pretty soon the storm clouds are beginning to clear, and the kitchen’s getting steamier. But it’s never quite as simple as it sounds in this film and writer-director Nettelbeck doesn’t patronize her audience with Life-lite; this is something closer to reality. Aided by an irresistible performance by Gedeck as Martha, a stunningly precocious turn by Foerste, and Castellitto for much-needed comic relief, the film is a treat to savour. Mostly Martha is by no means perfect – the ending was a slight letdown and the repetitive score occasionally grated – but one can’t deny the film’s emotional range and verve. What sets this apart from Notting Hill and its Jollygood-Hollywood ilk is that it has a substantial foundation in the real world, rather than the saccharine Brit-fop goo-topia where Grant currently reigns. So, although the Brits may have proved themselves better at winning War, this film suggests the Germans have a better understanding of Love.
ARCHIVE: 4th week TT 2003