written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck
with Martina Gedeck and Sergio Castellitto
opens Aug. 23 at Egyptian
Hate to cook? Martha (Martina Gedeck) will be happy to help you. Just one thing— Abweichungen vom Rezept sind nicht gestattet! In other words: Deviations from the recipe are not permitted! In her therapy sessions, the hyperorganized, meticulous professional chef is in denial about her uptight type-A existence. "I'm not compulsive," Martha protests. "I'm precise!" Mostly Martha is a work of precision, too, in the sense that a well-honed kitchen knife can also carve gooey slabs of pastry for undemanding palates. Don't worry about the language barrier, since Martha could easily play on both the Lifetime Network and the Food Network.
Martha's inevitable, overdue loosening up comes when she's forced to care for her adorable-yet-bereaved 8-year-old niece. Here's a shocker: The stereotypically German Martha has her perfectionist life disrupted by young Lina, then, yes, actually learns how to love thanks to the towheaded tyke.
What's more, there's a stereotypically Italian chef, Mario (a dubbed Sergio Castellitto from Va Savoir), who comes into Martha's kitchen to further disrupt her life. He sings! He's sloppy! He's handsome! And he alone can reach the initially catatonic Lina, who naturally refuses all the superbly engineered food Martha offers her. Martha confesses to Lina, "I wish I had a recipe for you that I could follow." Are the themes clear enough now?
All this takes place in a posh eatery called the Lido, where grumpy customers, colorful co-workers, and food, food, food are photographed like a high-end infomercial scored with insufferable smooth jazz. (Couldn't they even afford Kenny G?) If you want loving close-ups of vegetable chopping and boiling broths, Martha is the movie for you. (For far superior food-related movies, rent Babette's Feast, Like Water for Chocolate, or Eat Drink Man Woman. Even 1973's La Grande Bouffe, which is pretty bad, is better.)
Somewhere, buried in layers of marzipan sweetness, there's also a subplot about Lina's absent Italian father, whom Sergio comes to represent in her wee mind. But you know what? Life is too short for me to waste any more time describing it when I could go get lunch instead.
Audiences averse to easy sentiment, broad clich鳬 and predictable plotting will have no appetite for this film. Otherwise, Martha is waiting to serve you.