Martha and Sex And Lucia
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
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
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.