Inevitably, food was going to come up while talking with Sandra Nettlebeck, and when it did, she helped me to understand the different religions, as she put it, of French and Italian cooking when we chatted about MOSTLY MARTHA in 2002. Being in charge, identifying blind spots, and the separating herself from her characters were the hot topics, the which she weighed in on with the same puckish charm that infuses her film.
As Martha, the heroine-chef of the German film, MOSTLY MARTHA, explains it, she’s not obsessive. She’s precise. Being the chef at a trendy restaurant in Hamburg requires split-second timing and an attention to detail that to the untrained eye might seem obsessive, but isn’t. At least according to Martha. Of course, she’s explaining this to her therapist, the one her employer is forcing her to see in order to avoid being fired. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem. Martha is a self-absorbed, perfectionist with no social life and no passion outside the preparing of exquisite food, and no clue about the effect her strict view of how things should be done affect the people around her. She’s also just a bit highly strung, taking time outs in the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator or berating a diner for not knowing fine cuisine when presented to him or her. Yet for Martha, this is as it should be. For her cooking is an intellectual exercise, such that we never see her actually eating anything that she’s cooked. For her, the attraction to the culinary arts is the way she can combine ingredients in a precise way and create a masterpiece every time. No guesswork, no sudden flashes of inspiration, it’s strictly A plus B equals a dish fit for the gods that she can then take over to her therapist who doubles as her taster.
MOSTLY MARTHA is a total charmer with the perfect blend of humor and heart. The only drawback might be that you will crave a cannoli, and maybe a kiss, when it’s all over. Try to have both on hand.