Mostly Martha is a German film about a chef who is obsessed with her art to a point that precludes personal relationships. She hides behind her precise measurements and particular flavors. Her sessions with a therapist devolve into Martha’s rambling descriptions of dishes. Food is her focus; but it is food without fellowship, food to be admired and analyzed in a scientific sense, calories without communion.
Two events change Martha: becoming the caregiver for her young niece Lina and the entrance of a robust, hearty, jovial sous chef into Martha’s restaurant kitchen. Mario’s zest for life is reckoned insanity by Martha; his laughter infuriates her.
The interplay between food and relationship dominates this film. Before Mario appears, food is strictly clinical. Even the patrons of the restaurant prefer a particular texture or flavor over a shared experience. Martha is seldom seen eating and when she does eat it is at a stark table, alone. Mario understands fine food and appreciates a discerning palate, but he insists on keeping meals within the context of community. The culmination of the film is a feast, a full-orbed celebration that marries friendship with food.
Mostly Martha is the opposite of the downward arc of the 1990 film Avalon. At the advent of Avalon we see multi-generational dinners – loud, boisterous gatherings of brothers’ families. After a television joins the furniture, the empty dining room table is silent and folks eat gathered around the tube. Eventually a solitary old man is in a care facility sitting in a trance before a tray of untouched food.