Mostly Martha (2001) Poster

(2001)

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Assured, intelligent, charming
Spleen21 January 2003
A strange thing about the food: some of it, like the bird-cooked-in-pig's-bladder which Martha describes in loving detail in order to have something to talk about while she's with her therapist, sounds good, and perhaps even looks good, without being in the least bit appetising. You'd have to be mad to actually eat anything that's been cooked in a pig's bladder. But Martha is probably right aesthetically, if not in any other way: if she says the best way to cook the bird is in a pig's bladder, then you'd better believe it.

Martha is a superb creation. She's a good chef. (She may be the best chef of any film ever made.) When her boss sends her to a therapist, she talks about food and cooking, which interest her, rather than about herself, which doesn't interest her. She goes to therapy because her boss orders her to, and when her therapist (who's no fool either) asks her why she thinks her boss orders her to, she says, as though considering the question for the first time, that she doesn't know – and she clearly doesn't care, either.

When various people (her orphaned niece, an Italian cook) come along to disrupt her life, we're on her side in wanting her to retain control; and although these likable people DO successfully disrupt her life, she does successfully retain control; so everyone wins. And it's hard not to admire someone who can not only insult the philistines who eat at the restaurant where she works but who know how to do so properly. These people don't know how good they have it. I'd rather be insulted by her than flattered by some spineless flunky.

The script, word for word, and moment for moment, is as perfectly judged as one of Martha's dishes. The IMDb user who says of Lina: "She didn't cry when her mother died, but she was really upset when Martha forgot to pick her up. It wasn't her fault, it was the script's" merely shows how much his sensibilities have been coarsened by Hollywood cliché. In fact, the film shows genuine insight into the way people naturally react, not the way lazy screenwriters would like to train them to react. Lina reacts to her mother's death not with the usual screen histrionics but by not eating. Tears are reserved (as they are in life) for less important misfortunes.

This is an assured, intelligent, charming film. Even the use of music shows an unerring touch. I'm eager to see what Sandra Nettelbeck does next.
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Home Cooking
writers_reign9 January 2004
It's almost as if Nettelbeck had been given a recipe for a perfect film - start with the tried-and-tested, take a character living alone, set in his/her ways then saddle him/her with a young kid and simmer the love-hate on a low flame; add a culture clash and vamp til ready -and discarded it in favor of her own ingredients. The culinery metaphor is self-explanatory but it IS fun to see the heavy, lard-based German cuisine slugging it out with the lighter, oil-based Italian style. Up front we have two cold teutonic hearts, aunt and neice and with the introduction of the Italian extrovert chef we know it is only a matter of time til the warm Italian sun thaws the cold aryan hearts. That's pretty much what happens but it is a DELIGHT to go along for the ride and surrender your emotional taste-buds to Nettelbeck's expertise for the entire running time. I've just seen this movie for the second time in about 8 months and I was just as captivated this time around. 9/10
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9/10
Wiener Schnitzel Italian style...
jotix10014 October 2002
This German film is one of the happiest surprises of the year. Not only is it a well paced, acted, and directed, but it involves the viewer like no other film in recent memory. Director/writer Sandra Nettelbeck deserves praise for bringing this joyous piece to the screen.

Martina Gedleck, as Martha, is perfect as the control freak of the upscale restaurant. Obviously, she can cook, judging by the full houses and the good vibes she generates among the diners. What she has in smarts, she lacks in social graces. Obviously, she doesn't have a life.

Her world is shattered by the arrival of a niece that comes to her under tragic circumstances, and from Mario, the new Italian cook. One can see the new man in her kitchen is too much of a free spirit, who ultimately will be her downfall.

Mario, very nicely played by Sergio Castelletto, is the opposite of his German colleague. It doesn't take long for him to charm the daylights out of Martha. Sparks fly whenever they are on screen together. Both principals have the right chemistry and that's why this film works so well. It will surely disarm anyone in the right state of mind. The only thing is that one must leave the theatre craving for a great meal.
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10/10
A Perfectionist Becomes Unglued-Charmingly, Movingly
lawprof6 September 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Director Sandra Nettelbeck directed a wonderful cast in an outstanding film blending drama and comedy in a setting that left me moved - and hungry.

"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.

10/10!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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8/10
Misleading trailer, Wonderful film
ferguson-626 August 2002
Greetings again from the darkness. Nothing (well very few things) irritates me more than a marketing campaign that misrepresents the movie. The trailer I saw 2 months ago, led me to believe that this was a comedy, in fact, almost a slapstick comedy. PLEASE don't go to this movie expecting a comedy. There are a few laughs, but mostly just a few smiles and chuckles. This wonderful film offers so much other than comedy. Veteran German actress Martina Gedeck is just outstanding as Martha - a beautiful woman comfortable only while cooking ... and then just barely. Most of the movie deals with Martha's struggle at being a mom to her 8 year old niece AND having to share her kitchen with a talented "Italian" chef. Watching these 3 grow is painful, yet fulfilling. Watch for the changes in Martha's approach to food and life as Mario shows her the warmth and emotions of both. This is a coming of age film for an older woman. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" had been my favorite little movie of the year. Now it is not so little, and "Mostly Martha" may be every bit as good. Just don't expect a laugh out loud comedy.
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8/10
Mostly Martha but all good.
=G=22 February 2003
"Mostly Martha" is a thoroughly delightful tale of a comely, self contained, socially unassured, and occasionally gauche German master chef, Martha (Gedeck), in need of a recipe for living who finds love through tragedy and romance through cooking. In thinking about these comments I concluded that there is nothing I would change about this film except the language (I don't speak German). A perfect little gem, "Mostly Martha" is the kind of flick which makes you feel sorry for those who won't watch foreign films because of subtitles and wonder why audiences dine voraciously on cinematic junk food when such palate pleasers as this are not only delicious but nutritious. (A-)
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Four relationships, two fronts, an island (no woman is....)
harry_tk_yung23 February 2003
(spoiler regarding the general plot)

Bella Martha reminds me of About A Boy, the "no man is an island" aspect of it. In some ways, Martha is like the guy played by Hugh Grant. The difference though is that while he apparently is really happy about the state of affairs, i.e. the isolation, she is not (even if she may not be fully aware of her own unhappiness). She has to visit a therapist regularly, although she claims that this is purely on instruction of her boss. I call this visit the first of the four "relationships" just to make the number sound more interesting.

The other three relationship all start to develop quite early in the film. First, a neighbour moves in, a gentlemanly engineer called Sam. Then in her "office" i.e. the kitchen of a restaurant where she is the chef, a chap called Mario is brought in by her boss as temporary relief for her assistant on maternity leave. Finally, death of her single-parent sister in an accident left her taking care of her eight-year-old niece Lina while they search her father in Italy.

The first half of the film developed these three relationships along the two fronts: home and office. Soon, it is clear that Sam's role is not really significant, serving just as a dependable friend and emergency-baby-sitter. On the other hand, rocky starts of the other two relationships smooth out as the two fronts merge. Lina comes to the restaurant kitchen in the evenings, becoming a darling there, while Mario becomes a family friend and Lina's buddy, and the three look just like a family. We begin to see smiles on Martha's face.

As in similar movies, just after the mid-point, when characters are well developed and things go nicely, conflicts occur. What I found is that the hostility of Lina towards Martha is less than convincing, even if we take into account her possible rejection of Martha as a mother-substitution. The eventual reconciliation also comes a little too easily. The other conflicts, on which I won't go into details, are not that well developed.

But that is exactly the main point. This is not a Hollywood movie with the standard formula of powerful dramatic conflicts and climatic tear-jerking conclusions. This point is well made when we see the ending of the story given to us quite casually as part of the credit roll. Oh yes, there's a concluding scene with the therapist, reminding us of the sense of humour that comes as part of the film.

Smooth jazz (not sure if that's the right terminology) has been used throughout the film, at the right times, enhancing it rather than distracting from it.

Finally, I really love the scenes in the kitchen which is Martha's entire universe at the beginning of the film, as well as where her reconciliation with both Mario and Lina first takes place. The story aside, I really enjoy the operation in the kitchen, which is the exact opposite to the mass production lines brought about by the industrial revolution. Here, in Martha's kitchen, things are done with what I can only describe as artistic flair.
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9/10
exceptionally good movie
MartinHafer5 September 2005
This film is an excellent psychological study of a VERY controlled and emotionally constricted woman who uses food, believe it or not, as a way of avoiding intimacy. She is a superb chef who is incredibly precise and demanding concerning her cooking because she is so uncomfortable with people. However, into her tightly controlled world comes chaos in the form of her niece--whose mother was just killed in an auto accident. Not surprisingly, she has a hard time relating to this child and I was thrilled that her transformation to a whole person took time and wasn't achieved in a Hollywood-style way. Instead, this little girl (who was not overly cute or fake--thank goodness) and a new chef at her restaurant (who was completely unlike her) influence Martha in a way that is believable and satisfying.

By the way, while not quite as good as The Big Night (which came out the same year) or Babette's feast, this movie is VERY reminiscent of them--elevating food to a true work of art.
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8/10
Thoughtful, moving, rewarding
zwirnm9 November 2002
A few rhetorical questions:

a. Why are there no great English-language food/romance movies? Whenever you see a movie that truly ravishes you with food preparation and recipes as part of the atmosphere of the movie, it comes from France or Mexico or Hong Kong - or, if it is in English, it's borrowed culturally from another country (e.g. Chocolat, or the Mexican-American adaptation of Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman). I think it's because the English speaking societies of the world have a relatively unsophisticated approach to food preparation and dining, manifest in our great contributions to world culinary arts - fast food and industrial agriculture, plus cooking technologies that take art out of the equation. You can't have a sexy drama set amidst a world of force-fed veal or microwave dinners.

b. Why do we never talk about German comedy? The Germans do have a comedic tradition, but the movies that are released in the US tend to be solemn dramas, violent or shocking action pieces or grim experimental works. On the rare instances that I see a German comedy, I'm always pleasantly surprised, and I have the feeling I'm missing out.

c. Why are European movies so much better than American films at showing sexiness and desirability in 30- or 40-something year-old women? I have a pet theory, that European sensibilities about marriage and commitment are sufficiently different from American norms that there is the expectation that a 35-year old woman may yet be actively and happily single, or perhaps a single mom who isn't stigmatized to feel that she had best find some sucker to marry her and get out of the dating pool.

d. Why isn't jazz used in American soundtracks anymore? In this film set in Germany, the score is assembled by Manfred Eicher (founder of ECM, the acclaimed modern-jazz label), and it's all good. Some nice German lieder, classic vocal jazz, and instrumental pieces by Keith Jarrett and others. We Americans appear to have forgotten jazz as soundtrack music.

In any case, Mostly Martha is a fine little movie set in contemporary Köln, starring Martina Gedeck as the title character. Martha is a neurotic, workaholic chef at a high-end restaurant, whose control freak tendencies keep her at a distance from everyone. When her boss insists that she go to therapy, she replies by preparing recipes for the hapless shrink. Both lonely and a loner (a tricky combination), she throws herself into her work to the point of exhaustion.

Martha's single-minded life is thrown upside down when she suddenly becomes the guardian to her niece Lina (Maxime Foerste). As she struggles to take on this new role, the arrival of a competitor in the form of a brash Italian chef (Sergio Castellitto) threatens her supremacy in the kitchen.

Any viewer of romantic comedies knows where this is going, but I have no complaints about the plot line. The performances were all good; the dialogue is thoughtful; the food looks delicious. It's not a great movie, but it's a good one and would be an admirable effort by any studio.
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9/10
If you ever needed a reason to learn German
Stephen-3425 October 2005
You have it now. Buy, don't rent this film. It's a keeper. Most notable and with great kudos to the director, the films stays true to itself almost all the way through. Far enough to beat out most other films. There are a few quibbles toward the end of the film, but not enough to shake off the aura it imparts just giving yourself over to its story.

The camera moves efficiently and cleanly throughout the film, and the actors respond with clean understated action and dialog.

The story is spare, and I found what I think is a clue to the writer's intention, as the protagonist describes the menu purpose of "Fish in Butter and Basil sauce." Listen for it and see if you don't agree, she is speaking to us about her story/film.

To own this is, like Nurse Betty, to own something you just have to pull out and watch a couple of times a year. just because they're so darn good.

No wonder the folks in H'wood are busy at making an American version for 2007.
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Everything "Chocolat" should have been! (Not a Spoiler)
ncarmadilloman23 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
In my opinion, Mostly Martha possessed all of the ambient factors required to deliver a really good Romantic Dramedy. It was the total package, sensual, sensuous and most importantly it contained several dramatic elements that were genuinely entertaining. The film was superbly cast and directed. I was completely enchanted by Martina Gedeck's role as Martha, which was based primarily on emotional development and adult growth toward maturity. Sergio Castellitto, (Mario), was humorous passionate and seemed to displayed some of the improvisational qualities that are reflective of, dare I say, the incomparable Roberto Benigni. If there was a short coming in terms of the writing for a particular character in this film it was that of Lena, Martha's eight-year-old niece. Maxime Foerste did an above average job her portrayal of a traumatized child. She simply wasn't as dysfunctional as I anticipated based on the background activity in Martha's initial telephone conversation with her sister. Mostly Martha was a pleasant surprise, particularly based to the fact that the film didn't receive a great deal of hype or critical acclaim. If you're prone to enjoy this kind of flick and don't mind the foreign language aspect then you should really enjoy this one.
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Martha is a great chef, but just can't seem to relax and enjoy life!
TxMike19 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
CAUTION -- the following comments DO contain SPOILERS.

Germans are known, sometimes unfairly, for their precision without passion, and Martha, the chef at a very popular restaurant, is a glaring example. And that is her greatest failing. She is regimented, punctual, aloof, uncompromising. If a customer says his entre is not cooked just right, she will argue with him at the table, to the consternation of the owner, who can't afford to fire Martha, but requires her to see a therapist weekly.

Two big events complicate Martha's life and make cracks in her shell. First, her sister dies in a car wreck on her way to visit Martha, and the 8-year-old niece comes home with Martha. Second, a cook is pregnant and an Italian chef is brought in. The niece is impossible, misses her mom, wants Martha to find the dad who is Italian and lives somewhere in Italy. Martha doesn't like the Italian chef's style. He is not regimented, he comes to work late, he sings in the kitchen. Martha feels threatened, but eventually warms up to him when his food gets the little girl to start eating again.

Soon the three of them are doing things together, but Martha finds it hard to soften up. Then the girl's dad shows up, and she leaves with him. Martha puts her head down and goes back to work, joyless. Then the straw comes when a customer complains that his steak is not rare enough, she goes to his table and plots down a piece of raw meat, "Is this rare enough?" The owner is furious, but Martha quits, gets the Italian chef to help her with the language, and drives to Italy to see the girl, and bring her home, the three of them become a family.

Very watchable, funny movie with great characters. DVD in German Dolby 5.1 with subtitles. Great fun watching the many scenes in the kitchen of the restaurant.
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8/10
If at first you don't love it...
jherbert26 February 2004
Obviously, I liked this film more than most. I found it touching and

well acted. And it had a realistic character who is quite frustrating

to watch, even with her therapist. I also felt her insecurity when the

charming Italian shows up. A chick flick? Believe it or not, men

sometimes feel insecure and threatened, too. Moreover, the

actors had a chance to really journey through an "arc", ending up at

a place different from where they began. That doesn't happen in

most films. Finally, if you see "Martha" and don't love it, I suggest

you watch it a second time, with your eyes closed. Listen to Paulo

Conti. He's incredible! If nothing else, the film introduced me to

his music, and that alone would be enough.
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9/10
Bellissima
ddelamaide2 September 2002
Such a fine balance of humor and feeling is rare, superb performances from a wonderful ensemble of German actors (so sad that an international audience does not get to see more of these fine performers), great script, virtually flawless direction--what more do you want from a film? To make such a virtue of German understatement, where feelings run so strong underneath the surface. To use German inflexibility as a foil for real people who are truly able to break the rules to achieve happiness. This is not a fluke, simply a side of Germany most people don't get to see. A restaurant kitchen is such a universal setting that it doesn't matter that the film is set in Germany, in Hamburg. It seems familiar to all of us. And the emotions too are universal, and touching. One of the best films of the year.
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8/10
A little diamond,sensitive delicately done piece of art,director's work
dav2214 November 2001
A little diamond,sensitive, delicately done piece of art,director's work. Sandra Nettelbeck has the talent that only few newcommers have. Great performances,especially by Martina Gedeck as Chef. Must be one of 10 best films for 2001
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7/10
The Charms Outweigh the Clichés
noralee12 December 2005
The charms outweigh the clichés in "Mostly Martha (Bella Martha)." Of course it's right away different in that the phrase "German romantic comedy" isn't common and can be applied here.

I loved that "Martha" herself is a competent, self-possessed professional and that's what attracts the guy to her. While we first meet her in therapy, her problems are those of work and personal life I could certainly relate to.

While this will remind others of food prep movies like "Wedding Banquet," "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman," and "Tortilla Soup" or restaurant movies like "Dinner Rush" and "Big Night," (which all had male chefs), or "Babette's Feast," I have zero interest in cooking so cared only that "Martha" is very good at her job and at managing the restaurant kitchen.

The restaurant characters seem like real co-workers, and amazingly the niece is not some adorable child actor but seems like a real kid whose surliness is legit.

The Italian sous chef who comes on board brings the sensuality of the Mediterranean --in music (with a generous use of Paolo Conte songs), movement and language much like in the Danish "Italian for Beginners."

And of course in romance, which is still delightful even as the clichés start appearing, her happiness is indicated by her loosened hair like Jane Fonda's in "Electric Horseman."

But I enjoyed the build-up to their relationship in ever longer, longing glances and their mutual professional respect and concluding compromises.

(originally written 9/2/2002)
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8/10
A pretty good food movie
wjfickling10 July 2004
The greatest food flick of all time is "Babette's Feast." A close second is "Eat Drink Man Woman." "The Big Night" and "Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?" were pretty good too. This one belongs with the last two. Saying that a film is a great food flick isn't saying all that much, because guess what? There aren't that many! In fact, I think I've just named all the ones worth seeing. Being a lover of fine cuisine, I'm more than happy when another one comes along, so add "Mostly Martha" to the list.

As in all food films, the food is a vehicle for moving the plot along and helping it unfold. But when a film centers around a character's livelihood to which that character is dedicated, it helps to see exactly what drives that dedication. That is easy to see here. The buzz word about food flicks is that they're "sensuous," but the fact that it's a cliché doesn't make it any the less true. I didn't find my mouth watering as I did while watching "Babette" and "Eat Drink," but it did make me a little hungry. So the film is as much about the obsession of the creative artist as it is about the rather conventional plot.

In fact, the less said about the plot the better. Unless you can count the number of films you've seen on the fingers of one hand, you can probably figure out fairly early on how it will end. That really doesn't matter. The movie is about balance, something all of us need in our lives, a fact we too often forget. So it's a "chick flick." So what? "Chicks" make up over 50% of the human race, and I'll take this over some moronic testosterone-driven action film any day. 8/10
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4/10
Not appetizing at all
hvandooren10 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Bella Martha doesn't convince me. Martha, the frustrated top cook, is out of place in this role. As are the unreal clean kitchens, settings and props. No stains, no live, no love. The cooking doesn't make you wanna eat. The cast is so polished they are almost like window dressing dolls. When the little niece is in hospital she wears the make-up of a woman on a night out. Martha's counterpart is an insanely optimistic cliché Italian, who had to be dubbed (which is badly done). Then there is the incredible story of the rebellious niece who loses her mother (Martha's sister) and who is handed over to an totally unknown Italian father as if it were an Ebay-trade. Then there is the pointless appearances of next door neighbor Sam. Of course there is an happy ending after 90 boring minutes, In style with the movie: not convincing at all.
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6/10
Charming love story for foodies
Imdbidia10 February 2011
A German film that tells the story of chef Martha and the changes in her life and job after her orphan niece moves to her place and a new Italian chef joins the team in her restaurant. Love will be a catalyst in Martha's personal life, and also in the way she approaches food and her job as a chef.

The movie is a nice mix of drama, romance, and "foodies" movie, with stereotypical characters: the flourish flirtatious Italian, the hard resilient cold German, and the rebellious troubled kid.

The believability of the movie is heavily indebted to Martina Gedeck's performance as Martha and to child Maxime Foerste as her nice Lina. They both play with great conviction their respective hard characters. Sergio Castellitto is very charming as the Italian chef Mario, and plays his character with a mix of downgraded Italianism and Flourish Germanism, so to speak. The three of them have a great chemistry on camera and carry on the story well.

Said this, I found that the romance story, although charming, was underdeveloped, while the struggling relationship with the kid was completely predictable and unoriginal. In fact this is just a traditional film recipe well carried on and well acted. However, the movie received an accolade of local and European awards and lead Hollywood to adapt the movie in No Reservations, adapting the plot to American tastes and turning it into a straight comedy.

An enjoyable film with stereotypical characters and situations, and very good performances. Perfect for foodies!
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Introspective
tedg6 April 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

This is a German movie, which is to say that it is mechanical. But it is an intelligent German movie, so one can expect it to be introspective and reflexive. And so it is.

It starts out with very crisp, engineered shots and editing; incidentally, our heroine is crisp, mechanical and engineered. Moreover, so is her creation: three levels.

As it progresses through the old (dare I say mechanical?) plot device of `unprepared adult unexpectedly inherits sweet kid,' it becomes more emotional and Italian. As it does, the photography and editing mutates to the characteristic, veristic languor of Italian films. And the food mutates as well.

Three levels.

As food films go, this is one of the best, though perhaps not as engaging as others. `Cook, Thief...' is perhaps the most cinematic and sensual, `Eat, Drink..' the most flavorful. But this is the most integrated in its matter and manner.

Others: `Babbette's Feast,' `Big Night,' `Wedding Feast,' `Tortilla Soup' (bad), `What's Cooking' (bad)...

Redheads again are featured, including brown and blond hair lit to be red, and this helps a lot.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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8/10
Solid Comedy Drama From Germany
tabuno27 January 2019
9 November 2002. This enjoyable little movie is solid in all dramatic and comedy aspects. This is great entertainment with an uplifting message and a great feast for the eyes and ears. The German subtitles are hardly a problem as the storyline is universal and the expressions and acting go beyond cultural barriers to tug at the heart and mind in this wonderful cinematic treat. Chefs and lovers, people who have lost someone and those who are caught within themselves, with some inner demons can appreciate this movie that captures both the beauty and complexity of perfection and the freedom of human emotions.
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6/10
No recipe for how to bring up a girl
Horst_In_Translation25 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
"Bella Martha" is an almost 15-year-old movie by Sandra Nettelbeck. As in all her works she not only wrote the film, but also directed it. Also it was her very first movie for the big screen. Since then, in her next 3 projects, she has worked with Michael Caine, Jane Alexander, Gillian Anderson and Ashley Judd. Not too prolific though as she makes only one film every four years and next year she will turn 50. "Bella Martha" runs for roughly 100 minutes and was so appreciated that they made a US remake a couple years later with Catherine Zeta-Jones in the lead role. Here, however, it's all about Martina Gedeck. She won the German Film Award and also the German Film Critics Awards for her portrayal here. Sergio Castellitto (the male lead, you may know him if you're Italian or have watched Narnia) and Nettelbeck herself also scored some awards recognition.

Idil Üner and Ulrich Thomsen appear in smaller roles here and the rest of the cast is not particularly famous, but still all experienced German actors. Gedeck has been in "Das Leben der Anderen" and "Der Baader Meinhof Komplex" since then, but the child actress, Maxime Foesrte, here has not been in films for several years now. Maybe she is back to "normal life". Would be a shame as she shows some potential here. She plays the daughter of a woman who gets killed in a car accident and has to deal with her aunt as her new "mother" from now on. Obvious, as a big part of the film is about cooking, they won't miss out on the funny parts that Gedeck's character does not prepare spaghetti for the girl, but instead highly exquisite dishes or wants to show her in one scene how you make the perfect crème brûlée. Or another comedic highlight were her sessions with her psychiatrist. And then there's the more serious parts of dealing with death or finding ways to a more fulfilling life.

Bella Martha is a good mix of comedy, drama and love story, smartly written and with good performances from everybody involved. Not much wrong with this film except the cheesy title perhaps. Recommended.
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8/10
Tough and touching
SnoopyStyle8 March 2014
Chef Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck) is the tough top chef in the kitchen. She's great with food but isn't good dealing with people. She doesn't take criticism well. She has anger issues and is under orders to therapy. When her sister dies in a car accident, she is left with her saddened 8 year old niece Lina who constantly asks to go home. Lina's father is named Giuseppe living in Italy. Martha has a difficult time, and the owner hires another chef, Mario (Sergio Castellitto) to help out. There is also a divorced architect living downstairs that she is infatuated with. She struggles with the new chef, and her difficulties with Lina.

This is a German movie remade later as 'No Reservations'. This one has a more compelling darker tone. The relationship between aunt and niece is much tougher and very touching. The food looks delicious. Mario provides a bit of charming comic relief. The ending is a little too neat, but it's a fine happy ending.
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9/10
Mature, loving, heartbreaking, life-affirming; and a good movie too
spratton28 July 2010
European cinema seems able to draw upon some excellent actors, who perform on screen without an audience thinking "oh, they are actors". This movie is witty, and painful, and musical ---- you will be humming or attempting the words of that Italian song! Martha the chef is workaholic in a way we all recognize and are not repelled by. Her scenes with the therapist are great comedy. The restaurant-kitchen scenes surpass anything I have previously seen in any movie --- thrilling, absorbing, completely enthralling. I don't know why Hollywood wanted to re-hash this top-drawer movie into a B-entertainment piece under a silly title. I have watched MOSTLY MARTHA perhaps six or seven times and will certainly repeat the pleasure. After I first saw it in a movie theatre, I walked out asking my companion "Why can't all movies be as genuine as this?"
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8/10
Charming relationships-comedy around food and cooking
yris200229 September 2009
Food and love have always been a winning pairing, since they both stimulate senses and emotions, and when they are well paired, their combination may turn into something explosive. This is true in real life and this is very intelligently portrayed in this charming movie. The risk with it was to fall into the clichè of the Italian fool, all pasta and passion, who in the ends melts the rigid German woman. Not at all, on the contrary the two main characters, Mario and Martha, belong to the emotionally deep, intense and, moreover Martha, complicated souls, revealing themselves gradually, letting the viewer enter their special world with delicacy, and slow timing.

I felt sympathy with Martha, I could really feel her sense of uneasiness with men, kids, and people in general, although keeping such an emotionally deep richness inside her, but so contained and so mistrustful about feelings, about life. Sergio Castellitto as Mario is simply great, I am fond of him, he's so attractive, mainly in the way he manages to respect Martha's inner precious but difficult emotional world (superb is the scene when he lets her taste some food with her eyes blindfolded, and then letting her guess a flavour by kissing her unexpectedly).

Kitchen setting is always intriguing, enhancing sense impressions of tastes, smells, and consistencies of food: the movie renders the joy and the physical pleasure which food can give with intensity, also thanks to some intriguing music by Paolo Conte ("Via con me" is a wonderful song).

Eating is a pleasure, loving is a pleasure, love and food work in the same direction, but it's up to men and women to take the necessary step to make them work in perfect accordance, and to make the recipe magically successful.
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