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In a German restaurant, Chef Martha Klein is the undisputed supreme ruler of the kitchen staff and woe to any customer who would dare criticize her cooking. Her life is firmly centered around cooking which takes on a obsessive level with stubborn single mindedness. Even when she is ordered to take therapy, she still constantly talks about her work and the iron clad control she relishes in her task. All that changes when her sister dies in a car accident, leaving her 8 year old daughter, Lina. Martha takes her niece in and while making enquiries for her estranged father, she struggles to care for this stubbornly headstrong child. Meanwhile at work, a new chef named Mario is hired on and Martha feels threatened by this unorthodox intruder. The pressures of both her private and work life combine to create a situation that will fundamentally call her attitudes and life choices into question while these interlopers into her life begin to profoundly change it. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A strange thing about the food: some of it, like the bird-cooked-in-pig's-bladder which Martha describes in loving detail in order to have something to talk about while she's with her therapist, sounds good, and perhaps even looks good, without being in the least bit appetising. You'd have to be mad to actually eat anything that's been cooked in a pig's bladder. But Martha is probably right aesthetically, if not in any other way: if she says the best way to cook the bird is in a pig's bladder, then you'd better believe it.
Martha is a superb creation. She's a good chef. (She may be the best chef of any film ever made.) When her boss sends her to a therapist, she talks about food and cooking, which interest her, rather than about herself, which doesn't interest her. She goes to therapy because her boss orders her to, and when her therapist (who's no fool either) asks her why she thinks her boss orders her to, she says, as though considering the question for the first time, that she doesn't know and she clearly doesn't care, either.
When various people (her orphaned niece, an Italian cook) come along to disrupt her life, we're on her side in wanting her to retain control; and although these likable people DO successfully disrupt her life, she does successfully retain control; so everyone wins. And it's hard not to admire someone who can not only insult the philistines who eat at the restaurant where she works but who know how to do so properly. These people don't know how good they have it. I'd rather be insulted by her than flattered by some spineless flunky.
The script, word for word, and moment for moment, is as perfectly judged as one of Martha's dishes. The IMDb user who says of Lina: "She didn't cry when her mother died, but she was really upset when Martha forgot to pick her up. It wasn't her fault, it was the script's" merely shows how much his sensibilities have been coarsened by Hollywood cliché. In fact, the film shows genuine insight into the way people naturally react, not the way lazy screenwriters would like to train them to react. Lina reacts to her mother's death not with the usual screen histrionics but by not eating. Tears are reserved (as they are in life) for less important misfortunes.
This is an assured, intelligent, charming film. Even the use of music shows an unerring touch. I'm eager to see what Sandra Nettelbeck does next.
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