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Monday January 24th

"Martha" Escapes Cliches, Teases Audience

"Mostly Martha"

4 Stars

"Mostly Martha" might look like Jell-O, but it tastes like creme brulee. Simple in composition yet strong in story, the movie is delicious and rich.

The film blends drama and comedy into a palatable movie and recycles cliches into zesty new scenarios.

The story centers on Martha, a headstrong German chef, who takes in her niece, Lina, after the girl's mother dies. As Martha's life takes a sudden turn to motherhood at home, her work suffers a blow when an eccentric Italian chef named Mario begins working with her and edging into her territory.

This scenario sounds predictable -- and is. Of course Martha argues with Mario as the sexual tension builds. Of course Lina has to take the rebellious-child route with her "You're-not-my-real-mom!" rant. Of course Martha and Lina grow to love one another only to be separated when Lina's estranged father comes to claim her.

Despite its predictability, the movie remains satisfying and is not tiresome. The inevitable romance between Martha and Mario is a cliche but doesn't feel like one.

They tease the audience with their sexy food and borderline kisses until the audience is begging for the big payoff as much as the characters are. Even when the two finally get together, any kind of formulaic sex scene is replaced by sensuality with a side of innuendo.

The subtle humor that drives Mario and Martha's relationship also lightens the drama and allows the film to flow. The characters are full-bodied and strong, and their personalities are built through thoughtful scenes. The film bounces from drama to comedy with ease and feels fluid and even.

A carefully orchestrated soundtrack complements Martha's moods. The light plucking of the piano musically emphasizes her loneliness as she prepares a meal that she can't even eat in her empty apartment.

The boisterous Italian music invading Martha's kitchen suggests her increasing annoyance at Mario. The music also allows for insight into his fun-loving character -- the complete opposite of Martha's.

The film attempts to involve all of the senses, emphasizing smell and taste with the kitchen scenes. Director Sandra Nettelbeck uses a simple style with no effects or extreme camera angles. The sometimes hazy and fuzzy look makes the film feel familiar and unlike a cold, pretentious foreign film.

For her first full-length feature, Nettelbeck focuses on reflecting the nature of the characters. The simplicity of it is reassuring and makes the film honest. The down-to-earth characters are depicted in a real-life fashion -- almost in a home-video manner.

"Mostly Martha" succeeds where many films fall short -- comedic but not cutesy, dramatic without being too serious and simple without being bland.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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