"Mostly Martha" (original name "Bella Martha") revolves around wound-up-tight-as-a-burrito master chef Martha (Martina Gedeck). Responsible for the success of Lido, her boss, Frida's (Sybille Canonica) urban German restaurant, Martha must nevertheless comply with her employer's demand that she weekly see a therapist (August Zirner). Martha seems clueless as to why therapy might help her but observing her in the kitchen and with restaurant guests suggests that her boss isn't too off-base sending her to a shrink. On the other hand, this therapist seems to at sea with her. He'd really find his place in New York.
Martha is Lido's proud and controlling head chef and she benevolently but firmly rules the kitchen. She's less charming with complaining customers engaging in forced and loud confrontations that I doubt even a hardened New Yorker could tolerate. Or an owner.
Coming for a visit, Martha's sister is fatally injured in a car crash leaving her eight-year old daughter, Lina (Maxine Foreste), lightly injured physically but deeply grief-stricken and withdrawn. Of course what follows is Martha's attempt to care for Lina and the clashes this unanticipated and initially painful relationship inevitably spawns.
Complicating matters, enter handsome chef Mario (Sergio Castellitto) who Frida hired without Martha's clearance. Professional jealousy? Fear of competition? Rude behavior? No spoilers in listing the inevitable.
Films with food as a central theme often allow the potential joy of gustatory pleasures to serve as a metaphor for the possibilities of satisfying and meaningful personal relations. Sappiness is a very possible roadblock too often encountered in this genre where the saccharine isn't just on the table. Not here. Everyone in the cast is marvelous. The characters are real. It's impossible not to care about them.
Especially winning is Maxine playing Lina. The nuances of her portrayal mirror without histrionics the path a bereaved little child must follow to reach acceptance and happiness. Martha, with no experience with children, goes through a believable transformation that made at least this viewer root silently for her. A woman who thinks a depressed and scared child wants haute cuisine for every meal as comfort food has a way to go. And Martha makes the trip.
Please see this film. It won't show up in many places but it's bound to be in rental outlets before long.