Mostly Martha (Bella Martha) (Germany, 2001) Mmmmmmmm-mmmm good! I love food movies. Eat Drink Man Woman, Chocolat, Big Night, Babette’s Feast, Like Water for Chocolate … there’s all those and plenty of others, and I can’t think of one I didn’t like. Is it just good luck? Or is there something that inspires a director to go that extra visual and emotional mile when the loving preparation of food is the metaphor for family, emotion, love of life … and all that jazz? I don’t know. I suspect that a movie that had nothing going for it but the food would not be a good movie … but I haven’t found an example, and I hope I don’t. All I know is, when a movie really loves the food, it’s already got at least two and a half stars in my book.
In fact, the only thing I didn’t like about this movie was the title. I found out that the working title in German was Drei Sterne, which means Three Stars. That’s not a great title, either, but it’s better than the one they went with, which tells me nothing.
Martha is the “second-best” chef in Hamburg, working at an upscale nouveau Italian place called Lido, where she runs a kitchen with Germanic efficiency and precision and a great deal of art and love. The rest of her life sucks. She’s going to a shrink, but all she can talk to him about is food. There really is nothing in her life she feels safe about but food. Obviously she needs a bit of shaking up, and it happens when her sister dies and she is left with an 8-year-old niece she isn’t prepared to handle. Then a new Italian assistant chef shows up in the kitchen to help during this tough time, and she views him as a rival. What follows is predictable, but so what? It’s warm, and funny, and I liked everyone in the story except a few asshole customers, who Martha never hesitates to blister for their nitpicking ignorance of good food. A trifle, a bon-bon, but never wienerschnitzel. Savor it.