The kitchen makes for a good setting for movies. There's wonderful food, chefs with personality, and a rat... wait, that's Ratatouille, Pixar's latest offering which unfortunately won't be shown here until the end of next month. On the other hand, a trailer for a romantic comedy seemed to have caught my eye. Also set in a kitchen, it stars Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart opposite each other as chefs who don't get along but ultimately fall in love, you know, the usual opposites attract formula, in No Reservations.
But I was surprised that it was actually based on a German movie called Mostly Martha back in 2001, based on a pickup at the library, and reading through the synopsis, it just couldn't be more coincidental as that. Hollywood has been poaching remake rights to a host of movies in Asia, from horror like Shutter, to crime thrillers like Confession of Pain, to Korean romantic comedies like My Sassy Girl and the likes. And of course, remakes and adaptations of movies from the European continent too. I wonder how much more original stories can Tinseltown spin on its own, without resorting to cannibalizing from others.
Written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck, Mostly Martha is not your typical romantic comedy, contrary to what the Hollywood remake would suggest (from the trailers so far). The premise is of course similar. Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck) is the head chef for a restaurant, a to the book, no nonsense, proud chef at that. She has a rigid lifestyle, and finds herself so high strung that on her employer's advice, reluctantly checks herself in for therapy. Her niece Lina (Maxime Foerste) drops into her life one day, and both find it difficult to adapt to one another, with Lina at first glance being your typical stubborn, bratty child. And things become worse when Martha has to face up to competition in her own kitchen, with the arrival of Italian chef Mario (Sergio Castellitto), a man whose laissez-faire style just drives her nuts.
If Hollywood were to take the script from here, it would make it a simple, expected romantic tangle between Martha and Mario, in which the trailer for No Reservations seem to suggest. But Mostly Martha is more than that. It's deeper, more subtle, has negligible snarky remarks passing off as comedy, and doesn't turn the kid into a precocious cutesy tot. It's steers towards powerful drama territory, with each scene beautifully shot, minimal dialogue which just catches your attention span, and subtle philosophical ideas tossed into the whole works. It examines the relationships between all characters in a very engaging manner, and doesn't neglect any of the main leads.
What emerges is a classy movie, with interesting reminders on life and living life. I particularly liked how fine dining gets weaved into the narrative, be it the preparation, or the properties, or just to decorate the set. Don't watch this on an empty stomach, please! What I found true is its account that unlike food, there is no recipe to life which you can follow step by step to a T, based on fixed parameters which if followed accurately, will bring out that flavour in the end result. Life can't be run that way, and certainly there is no recipe or formula on how to lead a successful life, having success defined by one's values.
My advise would be, given that Hollywood has adopted key scenes in its own release, and signs do seem to point No Reservations towards a true blue romantic comedy, if you'd like, watch the Hollywood version, but please come back to the original source material, and you'll understand why Hollywood wanted to remake this, and for you to experience the actual, rich storyline that Mostly Martha (or its German title Bella Martha) is actually all about.
The Code 1 DVD by Paramount Pictures is presented in anamorphic widescreen, and the visual transfer is just pristine, that the food looks so real you want to reach out and grab a bite. Audio is presented in the original German language track in 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional English subtitles. Being a barebones DVD release, there is no extras, besides the ability to perform scene selections over 14 available chapters.