2001, Pandora Filmproduktion GmbH/Bavaria Film International

Sandra Nettlebeck
Karl Baumgarten
Christoph Friedel
Sandra Nettlebeck
Michael Bertl
Mona Brauer

Martina Gedeck (Martha Klein)
Maxime Foerste (Lina Klein)
Sergio Castellitto (Mario)
August Zirner (Martha’s Therapist)
Sibylle Canonica (Frida)
Katja Studt (Lea)
Antonio Wannel (Carlos)
Idil Uner (Bernadette)
Ulrich Thomsen (Sam)
Diego Ribon (Giuseppe Lorenzo)

A perfectionist learns that life isn’t always about being perfect in this German cooking dramedy from director Sandra Nettelbeck.

At a local restaurant, Martha Klein is the perfect chef. She thrives on the perfection of her culinary skills. However, she has a tendency to argue with customers in a near abusive manner when they do not like her food. As a result, Martha’s boss Frida forces Martha to see a therapist to work more on her intrapersonal skills. However, Martha’s “perfect world” is about to come crashing down on her when not one but two fateful events occur.

Martha has learned the tragic news of her sister Christin’s death in a car accident. This forces Martha to have to care for her niece Lina. In addition, Frida has hired a new chef in the restaurant to replace sous chef Lea, who is due to give birth soon. He is an Italian chef named Mario and his carefree ways tend to clash at first with Martha’s perfectionist ways. However, as Martha gets to spend more time with both Lina and Mario, she soon learns that life doesn’t have to be perfect or even about perfection.

This German culinary dramedy all revolves the world of a perfectionist who learns the hard way that life nor anybody is perfect. Writer-director Sandra Nettelbeck crafted a tale of life’s imperfections and the impact it takes on one woman’s perfect world. In the character of Martha, it is clear that if she were to be pursued in a relationship the way she is perceived in the beginning, that person will seriously want to head for the door and never return. What is interesting is that in these types of films, it takes one person for that protagonist to change their tune. However, perhaps it is because Martha is seen with such shallowness that she requires, not one but two to change her views on life and cooking.

Martina Gedeck is great as the perfectionist Martha, who is seen working her skills in the kitchen only to find herself going all crazy on a customer who tells her the foie gras he ordered was undercooked. She thinks she is the best all-around and despite efforts from her boss to bring her back down to reality, the fact Martha must see a shrink just shows the level of arrogance Martha gives out to those who don’t agree with her. However, even the shrink feels he can’t really help Martha, which clearly indicates Martha must learn to change herself.

Maxime Foerste is a delight to watch as the first of the two people responsible for changing Martha, her niece Lina. Suffering from depression after the death of her mother, Lina shuts herself off from the outside world until she goes with Martha to her restaurant, where the viewer is introduced to the second person, carefree Italian chef Mario, played by Sergio Castellitto, whose voice was re-dubbed for the film. Mario shows Martha that life and cooking is not about perfection. The chemistry between Gedeck and Castellitto is quite fun to watch as they go from polar opposites who bicker at each other to love interests. As for Lina, she serves not just to help Martha, but acts as a bridge between Martha and Mario, knowing that they do have a chance to fall in love.

Mostly Martha is a nice little dish served at first chilled but then warms up as the film goes on, thanks to some great performances by Gedeck, Foerste, and Castellitto with a very important lesson: life and nobody will truly be perfect. The film would be remade as No Reservations, with Catherine Zeta-Jones in the Gedeck role.