View Full Version : Delightful, deep... Duetschland?

08-26-2002, 12:39 PM
Two things, no three, distinguish this film. One, Martina Gedeck's (Martha) face. Two, cuisine. Three, messed up people are people, too.

Sadly, Martha Gedeck is someone we starved Americans have missed out on for years. She is one of a handful of actresses with a face that can communicate everything. Like Patricia Arquette, Ingrid Bergman, and precious few others, Martha Gedeck has somehow gained sufficient control over her facial expressions that she can warm, terrify, or break hearts without a word. She is extraordinary and utterly winning in her role as a seriously neurotic chef.

My kitchen is about as wide as a crepe and as long as a vienna sausage. The two of us can cook together but only if one of us hasn't eaten in a month. The kitchen in Mostly Martha is huge. The food is exquisite. It is, I am sure, more a function of my inability to learn more than "pommes frittes" that caused my culinary experience in Germany (this is a German film surprisingly full of air and light) to compare so poorly with the one I saw on screen.

The film opens with Martha in a therapy session. She is telling the therapist what sort of mushrooms work with pigeon and which don't. When he asks her why she comes to therapy she answers, "my boss made it a condition of my work." Martha is a mess. She slams a bloody piece of meat on the table of an unsuspecting patron when he dares to suggest she overcooked his rare steak. She doesn't go anywhere but work and home. She has problems with authority and anger. She regularly hides in the walk-in cooler when things get too stressful. The writer/director (Sandra Nettelbeck) makes her neuroticism an endearing quality and not an object of our ridicule. A difficult maneuver but deftly executed.

08-26-2002, 05:37 PM
That sounds hilariously effective:

She has problems with authority and anger. She regularly hides in the walk-in cooler when things get too stressful.

What other Martina Gedeck films have you seen, would you recommend?

Thanks for the review. Cant wait to see this one.

08-26-2002, 07:22 PM
I've seen her in nothing else. The rest of her films are German and only one or two appear to have an American release.

08-26-2002, 09:19 PM
I heard the music was fantastic. Looking forward to that.
Heres a link to the films official site. Nice site:


Chris Knipp
08-29-2002, 02:00 AM
I completely agree that Martina Gedeck is a lovely actress with a wonderful, expressive face and we in America were deprived without her. I also think the movie has a very elegant look and is put together with admirable restraint. But my reservations come with the resolution of having an Italian chef come in and save the day. "Mostly Martha" is built out of the cliché contrast between cold Germans and warm Italians and asks us to believe that an Italian can open up a chilly German girl's heart and make her human. I’ll grant you that Sandra Nettlebeck knows how to make a story clear without hitting you over the head with its points, but I still think she’s offering too-easy solutions to the problems of frigidity, grief, and withdrawal.

I was reminded of Nanni Moretti's "La stanza del figlio" ("The Son's Room"), which deals with the death of a son and a family's effort to cope with the devastation wrought by it. In "La stanza del figlio," after the death the daughter gets into fights and is kicked off her basketball team, the wife is withdrawn and the psychiatrist father goes back to work, but can't function any more and eventually has to stop working. “The Son’s Room” is honest about how hard it is to cope with a sudden, devastating loss. At the end there is a slow beginning of reconciliation. But “Mostly Martha” provides more of a quick fix.

Somehow Mario turns everything around with just some smiles, some singing, and some good pasta. He not only brings little Lina out of her shell but he humanizes the reluctant Martha. I suppose this is true to life on some level, that real German women go hunting for Latin lovers on vacation or at home; in fact Lina, the little girl Martha rescues when her best friend dies, may have been the fruit of such a union. But it's hard to see this kind of warm/cold pairing taking place as a solution to a withdrawn person's problems in a movie without its seeming ridden with cliches. This is the paradox of "Mostly Martha": it's a subtle, elegant movie whose resolution is stereotypical and too pat.

08-29-2002, 07:56 AM
"the American art-house audience will buy some simplistic ideas because they come wrapped in a polished European casing"
I suggest the cliche of warm Italian and cold German is not found in the film. Certainly the Italian character is gregarious and engaging but several Germans (Lina's mom, the pregnant assistant chef) appear warm and engaging.
Southern Germans, like southern Americans, tend to be warm and gracious by comparison to their northern counterparts. To comment thus is not to paint all with the same brush but to observe a general characteristic that reveals an underlying truth.
Mario's success in getting Lina to eat is not a product of "smiles, some singing, and some good pasta" but a rather more subtle psychological ploy often used successfully with children "acting out." Mario leaves the pasta bowl and walks away. Nettlebeck shows Lina looking at Mario and Mario completely ignoring her, next scene, Lina is eating.
Although I would agree the ending was a trifle pat, Nettlebeck avoids the penultimate pitfall of healing Martha through love.
Finally, the thought that "true to life... real German women go hunting for Latin lovers on vacation" sounds like someone has internalized one of the cliches he rails against.
With all respect and an up front admission that I know Knipp not, I would suggest a quick glance for glass before tossing any stones.

Chris Knipp
08-29-2002, 02:01 PM
I was not intending to nip Mr. Stiles. Lots of German women go to Greece to get laid in the summer, and probably to Italy, though. I'm sure of it. I have not internalized any more stereotypes than anybody else, I hope. You do have an uptight German woman. You have a charming, easygoing Italian man who sings and doesn't shave (except just enough), and they get together, and voila! I won't back down on this. It's an elegant, beautiful film. The heroine is a terrific actress and terrific to look at. I am not trashing it by any means. But the solution is pat. Solutions often are. In "The Son's Room," there are no such pat solutions. Of course it isn't a romantic comedy, or doesn't try to be. Those two characters cited, though rather peripheral on screen, do indeed show Germans aren't all cold and uptight. Who said they were?