Saturday, March 26, 2011

Movie Review: Mostly Martha

E and I somehow managed to see the American re-make of Mostly Martha (No Reservations) while we were living in China. It was appallingly bad in every way. Had we been in the United States, I'm quite sure we would have walked out. (Seeing an American movie in a Chinese movie theater was a bit of a rarity so we toughed it out!) The premise was wonderful- so full of possibility. This is my most detested movie going experience- seeing something that could have been wonderful made flat, silly and trite. So I was happy to discover that Mostly Martha was originally done in German. I added it to our Netflix que with the hope that they did it better the first time around. I wasn't disappointed.

Mostly Martha is the story of an uptight, perfectionist chef who cannot stand to hear her creations criticized. She obsesses about preparing her food with precision, but she has no real conception of how it can nurture and satisfy on far more than a physical level. We never see her taste even one bite of the exquisite gourmet food she is busy preparing day after day. She lives alone in an antiseptic bubble of her own making. Then one day, on their way to visit Martha, her sister and niece Lina are in a car accident. Suddenly, Lina is an orphan and Martha has an eight year old girl to care for.

As you might expect, this transition is bumpy. Both engulfed in grief and plunged into unfamiliar roles, Lina and her Aunt Martha antagonize each other with oppressive silence. To make matters worse, Lina stubbornly refuses to eat. Meanwhile, Martha's boss has hired a new chef to "help out" around the restaurant. Mario's easy going, cheerful personality are an instant hit with everyone in the kitchen- everyone except Martha, who is convinced that he is after her hard won spot as head chef.

As the story unfolds, Lina begins spending lots of time in the restaurant kitchen watching and learning. She is instantly enchanted by Mario and takes to hanging on his every word. (It's no coincidence that Martha makes buttoned up French cuisine and Mario prefers a relaxed approach to Italian classics!)Martha tolerates having Mario in their lives since it seems to help Lina deal with her grief and finally begin eating again. But she begins to learn something from him too.

I believe that making food is a powerful metaphor for nourishing every part of ourselves- not just our bodies. And that is what made this movie so moving to watch. Food is much more than just fuel- or at least it can be. It's something we offer to the people we live with day after day. That can be very intimate. If you offer food made with mechanical precision and no gusto, what are you really offering? If you do it with warmth and enthusiasm and joy- then you are giving a precious gift that can't be denied and is filled with the complexity and richness of life. Nothing less!

And P.S: the the Soundtrack is wonderful. What great movies have you seen lately?

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