Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Film Review: Mostly Martha - A Feast of Love

By Emina Melonic
IlluminationThe Magic Lantern

Displaying MostlyMartha Poster.jpgMartha Klein is a chef.  Not just any kind of chef.  Cooking is an art form – it involves precision, perfection, beauty, and naturally, exquisite taste.  She is a chef at an upscale restaurant and she lives in an absolute certainty of what a meal should look and taste like, down to the degrees and minutes it takes to make foie gras, for instance.  Martha is in control and lives in a world whose center is a seamlessly presentable and delicately tasty plate of food.  But, this control vanishes in an instant when her sister is killed in an automobile accident.  Martha’s niece, an 8-year-old girl Lina, miraculously survives and for the time being, begins to live with Martha.  The chef begins to lose any sense of reality and the world she has created.
Mostly Martha (2001, German title Bella Martha) is a film directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, and the role of Martha is played Martina Gedeck.  Among other things, Gedeck is known for her intense role in The Lives of Others (2006) and she brings same intensity to the role of Martha – a combination of both stoicism and vulnerability.  Maxime Foerste brings a feeling of a suddenly motherless child into the foreground as both she and Martha are trying to make sense of the absurd situation.

Having Lina live with her brings further stress to Martha’s already disarrayed life.  In order to create some sense of stability in the kitchen, the restaurant owner brings on a sous-chef, Mario (Sergio Castellitto).  Mario is different, you might say.  To begin with, he is Italian and he brings with him the Italian ease as well as some music into the kitchen.  Martha resists at first – she is not interested in collaborative cooking.  But things begin to warm up between them once Mario reaches out to Lina, who by now is getting angrier about her predicament.

Displaying Martha and Niece.jpg
Martha and Lina
This film is a love story.  But it’s not just about a love between Martha and Mario, which begins to flourish as the film progresses.  If anything, the romantic love is in the background.  And despite the force of personal conflict between Martha and Lina, that too is not what fully drives the story.  More than anything, this film is about love of life.
There is something elusively and inherently erotic about food.  The way we prepare it, the way we eat it, the way we use our sense to experience it, and of course, the way we share it with others.  Eros is the life force, the energy which is in the foreground of the film.
The realm of the erotic has, unfortunately, been taken over (more often than not) by either cheap sentimentalism or worse, by pornography.  Misunderstanding our bodies, our senses, and relationality to other human beings is what keeps us from the experience of an authentic eros – a potency and dynamism inherent in every time we choose life.
We don’t really talk about the erotic too much, and perhaps we shouldn’t since it is almost inexpressible in words.  But a meal is a wordless effort to show love and compassion, whether for a child, a neighbor, a stranger, or a lover.  The message of the film is the message of the authentic eros.

Displaying Mostly Martha Food Tasting.jpg
Martha and Mario
Nettelbeck truly does an amazing job in cinematography.  Food prepared and food eaten is filmed with both concentration and gentleness.  You will be salivating, and if you’re anything like me (a person who loves to cook), you will be running to the kitchen fast, thinking of new ways to cook pasta or chicken or a good hearty stew.  You will we even forget to put the apron on!  Even if you’re new to the accoutrements of the kitchen and a wide variety of spices, you will feel inspired to begin somewhere.
Music used in the film contributes nicely to the atmosphere of both lightness and seriousness.  We hear the sounds of jazz in Keith Jarrett’s piano, or the sacredness of heavy emotion is Arvo Pärt, or the playfulness of Paolo Conte.  No person or image is aesthetically violated in this film, as we see in so many past and current artistic attempts at “rawness” that reveals nothing of human nature.  Rather, the food and music and movement of the camera always “speaks” of a verve for life and humor, à la Nora Ephron, or in the tradition of another great film about food, Babette’s Feast (1987).
I would not be revealing too much, I think, to tell you that the end of the film is indeed happy, and that the end is really only a new beginning.  A European Slav in me wants to protest (ever so slightly) to the joyous end of the film.  I seem to crave the Kafkaesque muddle more so than the Italian delight but then I take a moment and breathe and my senses are awakened again.  And, to be honest, isn’t joy and happiness just as possible and visible as those dark moments of our lives?

Displaying Emina Headshot.jpgEmina Melonic is originally from Bosnia.  After surviving the war in Bosnia and living in a refugee camp in Czech Republic, she immigrated to the United States in 1996, and became an American citizen in 2003.  She holds B.A. in English, German, and Art History from Canisius College, M.A. in the Humanities from the University of Chicago, M.A. in Philosophy from SUNY Buffalo, and in May, she will have earned M.A. in Theology from Christ the King Seminary (her thesis is on women's mystical experiences in Early Christianity).  

Currently, she is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature at SUNY Buffalo, and is working on her dissertation, which is on the Song of Songs. Emina lives in East Aurora, NY with her husband, Charlie, and their nutty but lovable cat, Lulu.

She blogs at Illumination and writes about more films at The Magic Lantern

1 comment:

  1. Love this movie. One of my favorite little moments is when Martha's boss (?) suggests that people were starting to prefer olive oil over butter. Martha reacts with shock and disgust. :-)


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