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'Mostly Martha'

'Mostly Martha' cooks up romance a la Hollywood

Saturday, September 21, 2002

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Book Editor

Martha is one tough kuchen. Chef of the Lido restaurant in Hamburg, she doesn't serve up Wurst mit Kraut, but sublime cuisine in the continental style and if you don't like it, you can hit the Autobahn, Fritz.

She brooks no criticism, takes no suggestions and has no life outside the kitchen. On her day off, she cooks for herself in her severely modern apartment but is too much of a perfectionist to spoil the meal by eating it.

"Mostly Martha"

RATING: PG for some stressful moments for a child.

STARRING: Martina Gedeck, Sergio Castellitto.

DIRECTOR: Sandra Nettlebeck.

WEB SITE: http://www.paramount


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She hyperventilates when her sink is full of dirty pots and pans.

As American moviegoers, we know what is missing from this recipe -- Love with a capital L.

"Mostly Martha" might be a German movie, but its roots run deep in Hollywood where the best ending is a happy one, but will Martha ever make it?

Two life changes rock her almost simultaneously -- her sister is killed, saddling Martha with her niece, Lina, 8, and Mario is brought in to help in the Lido kitchen.

Is he Italian? He plays "Volare" on his stereo while shaking his hips stirring a bechamel. He has a scraggly beard, curly hair and says "Ciao" instead of "Guten Tag."

Lina is the opposite. A sad, traumatized child who refuses Martha's wonderful food, she comes out of her shell only when she visits the Lido and tries Mario's pasta.

See what's cookin'? Soon she blackmails Martha into bringing Mario over to whip up a homestyle meal, thus proving that cooking can be a form of seduction.

Plus, nothing melts a frozen heart like a lovable kid, as moviemakers from Chaplin to Bogdanovich have demonstrated. (Having Martha retreat to the restaurant's walk-in cooler when she's feeling emotional is, well, pretty obvious.)

From its Kenny G-like sound track to its obvious romance, this is Schlag lite.

We're also given no information to help us understand why Martha is so uptight and things are further confused when a subplot involving her and an attractive male neighbor goes nowhere.

Still, there are moving performances from Martina Gedeck as Martha, Sergio Castellitto as Mario and Maxime Foerste as Lina; entertaining, well-directed action in a restaurant kitchen and compelling scenes of the port city of Hamburg in winter.

"Mostly Martha" serves up a healthy helping of Gemut-lichkeit, a rare dish in the German cinema, but one that's become as common as fast food in America.

Bob Hoover can be reached at bhoover@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1634.

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