Mostly Martha (Bella Martha) (2001)

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Released 12-Nov-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Romantic Comedy None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 102:27 (Case: 108)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Sandra Nettelbeck

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Martina Gedeck
Maxime Foerste
August Zirner
Sergio Castellitto
Ulrich Thomsen
Sibylle Canonica
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music David Darling
Keith Jarrett

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    In amongst the recent rash of non-Hollywood films through my player recently comes one from a new source - Paramount - and from a new country - Germany. I don't get to see too many films from Germany, but those recent ones that I recall seeing have been quite impressive. So I was quite looking forward to seeing Mostly Martha. Ordinarily I would have listed this under the name Bella Martha, being the original German name, but since the titles to the film are in English, it is the English name under which I list the film.

    Variously billed as a comedy, a romance, a drama and whatever else, it really is difficult to classify the film, but the best that I can do is a life drama. That covers a multitude of things, but is essentially what the film is all about. Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck) is supposedly the second best chef in Germany and is somewhat obsessed about what she does, as well as the way she does it. As a result, she runs her kitchen with something beyond the usual German efficiency - precision, logistics, no passion are what makes her kitchen work. She runs her life in something of an efficient manner too - no passion, no entanglements, no "life" it seems. It seems to work for Martha, at least until her life is disrupted by two events. Firstly, her sister is killed in a car accident, leaving Martha to deal with the reality of looking after her eight year old niece Lina (Maxime Foerste). Ill-equipped for the reality of dealing with the situation, their relationship is often stormy and unrewarding, at least until the slow realisation dawns that the relationship is not what it may seem on the surface. By then, it is possibly too late as the search for Lina's natural father, an Italian, has been successful. Secondly, and not unrelated to the first issue, Martha's kitchen is invaded with some temporary assistance in the form of Italian sous-chef Mario (Sergio Castellitto), and the nice regimentation goes out of the door. Mario loves life and has a passion for life and cooking, and this is reflected in his kitchen - where food is created to music such as Volare. The clash between two chefs in a kitchen is never good at the best of times, but the sparks that fly between these two diametrically opposed approaches is going to generate even more sparks than usual. But like the relationship with Lina, Martha's relationship with Mario is not what it appears.

    This is a rather nicely crafted film, with some wonderful comedic moments tossed in here and there to really lift the film in an ever so slightly sly manner. If you don't pay attention, the moments might pass you by without you noticing them, but if you devote the attention the film deserves you will be well rewarded with the impact of the comedy. Of course, that attention will also mean that the other great features of the film will also be noticed. Not the least of these is the acting. Martina Gedeck does a terrific job with Martha, which is rather essential since the entire film revolves around this character. The range of the character is quite staggering and Martina Gedeck carries it all off in a totally believable way. Her relationships with Lina and Mario are beautifully dealt with and the nuances of those burgeoning relationships certainly don't reveal anything too soon. Sergio Castellitto is by no means over shadowed and is simply wonderful as the full-of-life sous-chef. The joie de vivre is worn with ease and realised really well. Young Maxime Foerste certainly comes over as a little over-awed at times, but at the end of the day is not a weak link in the film at all. The diverse supporting characters certainly contribute to the overall feel of the film too, and this is really where the difference with an American film is obvious: the supporting characters are "real" people, rather than the glossy magazine types you generally find populating American films.

    The film is not exactly easy to characterise, other than to say it is different and really well done. The story is really well crafted and the realisation is very assured indeed. Everything comes up a treat, and not just gastronomically either, and the reward for viewing is easy to see. A rich tapestry that will delight.

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Transfer Quality


    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and the transfer is 16x9 enhanced. This is very close to the theatrical ratio of 1.85:1.

    With this being quite a recent film, the transfer is perhaps not quite as brilliant as I was expecting. There is nothing much wrong with it, but it simply lacks the sharpness and vitality that I was hoping to see. Definition is generally just a little soft, but at least consistently so. Given that inherent softness, the detail is adequate enough although perhaps once or twice shadow detail could have been a little better. There is a little graininess to the picture at times, but this is not distracting to the image in any significant way.

    The colours are generally a little on the muted side, but that is as intended and it really cannot be faulted. Black levels are very decent but skin tones are a little lacking - although on reflection this is perhaps intended. Over saturation is not an issue here and colour bleed is similarly absent from the transfer.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, whilst film to video artefacts basically comprised some minor aliasing. Indeed, so good was the transfer in that regard that it was not until 51:16 that I found it necessary to make a note regarding the aliasing - rather obvious in the pile of plates and again at 51:42. The only other significant instance was in the steering wheel at 76:25 so the problem was hardly of great concern. For a recent film there were a few more specks here and there than perhaps I would have expected but nothing that seriously affects the transfer as a whole.

    This is a single sided, single layered DVD, so there is no layer change to contend with.

    There is just the single subtitle option on the DVD, being English efforts. Since I don't speak much German, I cannot attest to how accurate they are but they certainly seemed to make sense.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is just the single soundtrack on the DVD, being a full bit-rate German English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer, although Sergio Castellitto's dialogue all has the feel of poor dubbing to it. I have found nothing to suggest that he is dubbed but his dialogue sure is a little out of step with the rest of the film. Apart from the aforementioned overdub impression, there did not appear to be any audio sync problems in the transfer. Whether it was just the different nature of the dialogue or not, I sort of felt that Sergio Castellitto's audio was always just a little out of sync with the video.

    The score comes from David Darling and Keith Jarrett and is a rather nice effort - but then again I have something of a soft spot for the music of Keith Jarrett. If you are familiar with his work, you will have a fair idea of what the score is like - nothing overt but nicely supportive.

    The soundtrack never really gets the opportunity to strut its stuff, as this is a heavily dialogue-driven film. There is not a whole heap of low frequency channel stuff here and surround activity in general is mainly ambient noise in the restaurant and kitchen type stuff. It fleshes out the soundscape without detracting from the central core of the film in the dialogue.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Absolutely nothing.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release appears to be identical to the Region 4 release in every major respect.


    Like a fine wine, Mostly Martha is a film of rare vintage to savour. With a delightful cast bringing to life a well crafted story, this is a film that rewards the viewer for indulging their time with the film. Whilst some extras would have been very nice, this is a fine cinematic meal to enjoy.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, September 12, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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