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Mostly Martha and Sex And Lucia
Reviewed by Dennis Morton

I don’t like to write about a film unless I’ve seen it several times. What I usually know after seeing a film once is how I feel about it. Understanding why I feel what I feel usually comes later, after a second, or even a third viewing.

Recently, in the company of other critics and reviewers, I saw a screening of a film called Mostly Martha. I won’t get to see it again in time to give it a proper review. It’s a small and beautiful movie, meticulously crafted and superbly acted. It’s the kind of film you’ll rarely see at the chain multiplexes. But Mostly Martha truly deserves a large audience, and I feel the need to alert you about its imminent arrival because it’s not likely to enjoy a long run. The advertising budget alone for the typical Hollywood movie is probably much larger than the entire production costs for this film.

The eponymous Martha is a neurotic chef in an upscale restaurant in Hamburg, Germany. She’s a control freak, a loner and a workaholic. Circumstance leaves her in custody of her niece, a strong willed girl a few years shy of puberty. For the first time in Martha’s life - sauces, soufflés and salmon must relinquish center stage. How Martha and her neice, Lina, negotiate their common grief is at the heart of this moving story.

I don’t want to give you the idea that this is a morose study of loss. It’s not. There’s much good-natured humor in Mostly Martha. When the owner of the restaurant where Martha reigns hires an additional chef, the stage is set for a classic and romantic battle of the sexes.

Mostly Martha is Sandra Nettelbeck’s first feature film. She wrote and directed the movie. And with it, she joins the ranks of Run, Lola, Run’s Tom Tykwer and Rivers & Tides’ Thomas Riedelsheimer as a world class film-maker.

Nettelbeck is not afraid to take her time to develop the relationship between Martha and Lina. And almost everything about the film is admirable, from the script, the performances, the sets, the camera work and editing, to the gorgeous score. I waited ‘til the very end of the credits to discover that jazz pianist Keith Jarrett was responsible for much of the beautiful music. While the pacing of the film falters a bit in the stretch, Mostly Martha is easily one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. It opens this weekend at The Nickelodeon in downtown Santa Cruz.

I wish I could give a glowing report on Sex And Lucia, which is playing right now at The Nickelodeon. I was prepared to like it. I wanted to, because I enjoyed Lovers Of The Arctic Circle, director Julio Medem’s previous film.

Sex And Lucia has its moments, due mostly to the screen presence of Paz Vega, the actress who plays the part of Lucia. And, true to its title, there’s plenty of sex in Sex And Lucia. There’s a lot of equal opportunity exposure and swollen body parts. No American film I’ve seen comes close to it, in that respect.Sex And Lucia is visually brazen but emotionally vapid. Ostensibly it’s Lucia’s story. But really, it’s the story of a novelist named Lorenzo. We’re supposed to believe he’s talented, but there’s not a whit of evidence to prove it. And Medem’s convoluted narrative amounts to little more than a self-indulgent attempt at cleverness.

A movie like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive is well worth the repeated viewings it takes to unravel its ingenious narrative structure. I went back for a second helping of Sex And Lucia to see if I’d missed something essential. But what I found was a flamboyant, slightly cloying confection masquerading as an artful entrée.

I won’t discourage you from seeing it, but don’t waste much time searching for the profundity it pretends to. And don’t bring the kids. The producers wisely eschewed a rating, but had they not, Sex And Lucia would surely have been clumped into the NC-17 category.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.