Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Mostly Martha

Written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, Bella Martha (Mostly Martha) is the story of a chef whose workaholic lifestyle is forced to change when she has to work with another chef as well as care for her niece. It’s a dramatic film of sorts that play into a woman who is good at what she does as she is forced to find a balance for her life as a chef and as a woman at home. Starring Martina Gedeck, Maxime Foerste, Ulrich Thomsen, and Sergio Castellitto. Bella Martha is a charming and heartfelt film from Sandra Nettelbeck.

Following the death of her sister in a car accident, the life of a workaholic chef is changed when she finds herself having to take care of her niece where she is force to adjust to the changes in life that include having to share the workload with an Italian chef hired to help her at this restaurant. It’s a film that has a woman whose life is about control and knowing how to cook and when a certain piece of food is well-cooked as the news about her sister’s death just halts everything she knows. Sandra Nettelbeck’s screenplay opens with the titular character of Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck) talking to a therapist (August Zirner) who is asked to examine Klein from the suggestion of her boss Frida (Sybille Canonica) because Klein is a perfectionist who only seems to live for cooking and cooking alone. All of that changes upon the news about her sister’s death in a car accident leaving her to care for her niece Lina (Maxime Foerste) who is shutting herself from anything while refuses to eat the gourmet food that Klein has created.

Adding to this change as the staff at her restaurant is dealing with the pregnancy of one of the cooks, Frida brings in the Italian sous-chef in Mario (Sergio Castellitto) who is not as disciplined nor seems to care about perfection. What he brings to the kitchen is something more carefree as well as a stereo that plays music to get everyone else in the staff feel relaxed and not worry as much on the job. Mario and Klein are two different people who have different ideas about running a kitchen yet the former knows when to step aside while he would creating food that Lina would eat which would make Klein’s life easier as she struggles with taking care and getting to know Lina while also trying to find Lina’s father who is Italian.

Nettelbeck’s direction is largely straightforward as it is largely shot on location in Hamburg, Germany where it play into the world of a gourmet restaurant with rich menus and food that only a few can get regularly. While there’s some wide shots of the locations, Nettelbeck’s direction is much more intimate in its usage of close-ups and medium shots where it does play into the intimacy of the kitchen. Notably as Nettelbeck uses the camera to see how people move in the kitchen as well as pay attention to the small things that they’re creating whether it’s a soup, a side dish, or the main course. Still, Nettelbeck does keep an interesting outlook into the story that include this relationship between Klein and Lina where would start to bond through cooking with Mario’s help as he would make a dinner for all three of them as a way for Klein to relax and connect with other people. Even as Nettelbeck would have these scenes between Klein and her therapist be approached with some low-key humor with the latter becoming interested in the meals she’s created. Still, there is this search for Lina’s father who is from Italy as Klein becomes unsure if Lina should be with her father or with her as she is forced to learn about the aspects of life and not having to follow the rules all the time. Overall, Nettelbeck crafts a touching and lively film about a workaholic chef dealing with the changes in her life.

Cinematographer Michael Bertl does excellent work with the film’s cinematography from the daytime exterior wintery look of Hamburg to the usage of gorgeous lights at the restaurant to the more basic look of the kitchen in its interiors. Editor Mona Brauer does terrific work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few transitional fade-outs. Production designer Thomas Freudenthal and set decorator Sigrid Schroeder do fantastic work with the look of Klein’s home that includes a big kitchen as well as the kitchen at the restaurant as well as the restaurant itself.

Costume designer Bettina Helmi does nice work with the clothes as it is largely straightforward and casual with a more posh role for Klein’s boss Frida. Sound designer Martin Langenbach does superb work with the sound in creating an atmosphere of the kitchen as it play into the chaos as well as how music is presented from Mario’s stereo. The film’s music by Steven A. Reich is wonderful for its jazz-driven score with some pianos and brass while music consultant Manfred Eicher and music supervisor Michael Beckmann both create a soundtrack that features an array of jazz and pop music that Mario likes to listen to.

The casting by Heta Mantscheff is brilliant as it feature some notable small roles from Katja Studt as the pregnant sous-chef Lea, the trio of Antonio Wannek, Idil Uner, and Olivier Broumis as a trio of fellow cooks at the restaurant, Diego Ribon as an Italian man named Giuseppe Lorenzo, W.D. Sprenger as a noisy customer, and Ulrich Thomsen in a superb performance as Klein’s new neighbor Samuel Thalberg who helps Klein in dealing with Lina as well as being a friend. August Zirner is terrific as Klein’s therapist who is hired to analyze her where he becomes more concerned about her cooking recipes that makes eager to eat though he tries to maintain a sense of professionalism in his job. Sybille Canonica is fantastic as Klein’s boss and restaurant owner Frida who is concerned about Klein’s state of mind as well as trying to run a restaurant that remains popular despite some of the awful customers they get.

Maxime Foerste is excellent as Lina as an eight-year old girl who just lost her mother as she’s struggling with loss while doesn’t seem excited to eat what her aunt creates yet finds solace and comfort through the food that Mario creates which would allow her to bond with her aunt. Sergio Castellitto is amazing as Mario as an Italian sous-chef who is hired by Frida to help out where he brings a more laid-back and fun approach to cooking in the kitchen as well as help Lina cope with food as he also manages to woo Klein in a subtle way while his voice is largely dubbed by Frank Glaubrecht. Finally, there’s Martina Gedeck in an incredible performance as Martha Klein as a workaholic chef whose life has been defined by perfection and following the rule is shattered by the death of her sister forcing her to care for her niece where she copes with newfound responsibilities but also having to share duties with another chef as it would allow her to open up more as it’s a charming and heartfelt performance from Gedeck.

Bella Martha is a sensational film from Sandra Nettelbeck that features a great performance from Martina Gedeck. Along with its supporting cast, simplistic presentation, a lively music soundtrack, and its love for food and cooking. It’s a film that explores a woman’s grief and having to adjust to unexpected changes as well as learn to let go of control and share the joy of cooking with others. In the end, Bella Martha is a phenomenal film from Sandra Nettelbeck.

© thevoid99 2019

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