Who says “foreign” films have to be so highbrow that no one understands them? Mostly Martha is a delightful example of how a well-told story can transcend linguistic barriers by being simple and unpretentious. Originally made in German and available with English subtitles, this slice-of-life film explores the relationships between people and food, people and each other.
Martha is a chef. Her only passion is food, her only form of expression, cooking. Her entire existence revolves around the supremely ordered world of a restaurant kitchen, completely devoid of surprises and variables… such as emotion. Until, one day, her sister dies in an accident, leaving Lina, her eight year old daughter, to be raised by Martha. Much to her horror, the restaurant hires Mario, an eccentric and unpredictable Italian chef, to take up the slack while Martha deals with the transition.
In her kitchen, Martha is in control. The food she creates is flawless. Her life, sadly, is neither in her control, nor flawless. She seems completely incapable of relating to anyone or anything except through the medium of food. She cannot understand, for example, why her niece refuses to be consoled by the elaborate meals that she prepares for her; she yearns to reach out to the young girl, but does not know any other way to do so.
As Martha slowly begins to allow Lina and Mario into her ordered world, she realizes that although food is an important part of her life, and perhaps even in some ways a metaphor for it, she can no longer allow it to be a barrier between herself and the world.
Understated, cleverly nuanced performances and rich cinematography make this a delightful, unsung little movie that everyone who loves food should at least attempt to get hold of.