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Mostly Martha

Mostly Martha is a sweet, tear-jerking German import that seems to have made a terrible enemy of the PR people responsible for promoting it in the states. First, there's that dreadful title. (How about calling a movie Partly Peter, instead of Spider-Man?) In Germany, the film was known simply as Martha and elsewhere in its distribution life the film has been called Bella Martha. Either of these alternatives would have been preferable to the "mostly" modifier, which provides no illumination and no sizzle.

A less serious problem is the trailer, which has been selling the movie as a light, disposable romantic comedy filled with images of mouth-watering food. While this characterization isn't flagrantly wrong, it does sell the movie short, for Mostly Martha is a deeply moving story of a control freak that learns to let down her guard enough to admit other people into her life.

As played by Martina Gedeck, Martha is an haute cuisine chef, prized for her dedication, artistry and fanatical perfectionism. She's also high-strung, shorttempered and so difficult to work with that the restaurant's owner has insisted that she go into therapy. The movie gets rolling when Martha suddenly finds herself caring for her orphaned niece (Maxime Foerste). Complicating things is the arrival of an Italian sous-chef (Sergio Castellito), whose loosey-goosey manner threatens the strict discipline Martha maintains in her kitchen.

The scenes in the restaurant's kitchen will ring true for anyone who's worked in the food industry and the film does deliver on the gustatory orgy that's promised in the trailer. The pleasant surprise is that the film has so much more to offer. Although the filmmakers make a few missteps along the way, Mostly Martha is, in the end, a lovely and absorbing weepie that earns every bit of its sentimentality. --David Fellerath

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