Czech director Jirí Weiss' MARTHA ET MOI definitely falls into the latter category. The film is seen from the perspective of Emil (Václav Chalupa and later Ondrej Vetchý), an awkward and sexually inexperienced adolescent who matures into a politically progressive student and soldier. His parents are briefly seen as violently and stiflingly overprotective, and so he develops a father/son relationship with his Uncle Ernst, played by landmark French actor Michel Piccoli (CONTEMPT, LA GUERRE EST FINIE, etc), a sought-after and wealthy gynecologist who treats Emil as an adult, and helps him make sense of his developing sexuality. It is there we meet Martha, the stout, but kind-hearted German housekeeper who Uncle Ernst eventually marries after he catches his young, beautiful, but wild wife in bed with another man.
The robust Marianne Sägebrecht gives a marvelous performance as the Martha of the title. She very subtly digs her way into the viewer's affections, creating a portrait of a poor country woman who has nothing more to offer her husband than an unfaltering love that even Nazism can't destroy. When it becomes known that her husband is Jewish and violent occurrences begin to surface in their tranquil existence, she clings to him all the more.
Though in many ways the film is set up to be Emil's coming-of-age story, the real core of the film is Sägebrecht and Piccoli's autumnal romance. The emotional weight of the film comes from their plight as national politics destroy their relationship- an unremarkable relationship between two elderly, flawed and utterly normal human beings.
MARTHA ET MOI was Jirí Weiss' last film, and it's drastically different than THE WOLF TRAP, his breakthrough film from 1957. It's certainly the work of a more mature and capable director, and even if his presence as director is less visible than in his earlier film, he is certainly more comfortable with his material. The film won him an award at the Vancouver Film Festival for most popular film, and despite enthusiastic reviews, financial and political problems halted its release in America until 1995- but by then it was only given token runs in New York, LA, and San Francisco before disappearing from sight and memory.
Even though there are plot holes and inconsistencies, the combined power of the performers carry the film to unexpected emotional heights. It's a beautiful, unassuming little film, and one that certainly deserves a release in some form, which sadly is something which it has never been given.