My husband’s been sick this week. With the man-flu. You know what that is – the same flu a woman gets, but much, much worse. It’s meant he’s needed to lie in his bed for a few days, groan, be brought tea, groan some more and then whimper. He’s needed his forehead stroked occasionally and sympathetic noises made. It’s also meant that at night, when all children are in bed and sleeping, I’ve had full voting rights over the remote control, and, thanks to Lilalia, I’ve been watching some chick flicks.
The first movie I saw was a German film called Bella Martha, marketed in English as Mostly Martha. This is the delicately told story of a gourmet chef who works in a French restaurant in Hamburg. She’s obsessed with food, and devotes her life to cooking. Chilly and introverted, she’s not great at human relationships. When her sister dies in a car accident, Martha is forced to come out of her food-focused world and start to care for her eight-year-old niece, Lina. She promises Lina she will track down her father, Guiseppe, in Italy and in the meanwhile provides loving but irregular care for the child: Lina hangs out in the restaurant on school nights, eats at strange hours, is frequently late for school. Martha, although she too mourns her sister, is not capable of helping Lina cope with her own feelings of loss. Their lives become tasteless and grey, but Mario, a new chef at the restaurant, brings the flavour back. He helps Martha relax and savour life again, and he provides warmth and fun for the love-starved Lina.
This is a delightful film. Foodies will love it, especially the almost balletic kitchen scenes whose fine choreography are offset by Martha’s violent intolerance of restaurant guests who complain about her food. In places it is quietly amusing, especially in the scenes where Martha visits her analyst. She details foods and flavours and how they work together, provides him with meals to eat, and critiques his attempts to cook for her. In showing Martha’s own Teutonic precision, Hamburg is presented as cold, grey and sterile, whereas Mario is sunny, emotional and friendly, just like his native land. Bella Martha is completely satisfying. It is romantic and sweet and touching, and since it’s devoid of swearing or sex, you could watch it with your grandmother.
Equally charming and granny-friendly, but a slighter meal, is Ladies in Lavender, a story set in Cornwall in the Thirties. Propped up as it is by those two British national treasures Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, and directed by film stalwart Charles Dance, it can’t really go wrong. It tells the tale of two sisters living in genteel poverty on the Cornish coast. One day, the near-lifeless body of young man is washed up on the beach below their house. They nurse him back to health, and as he gradually recovers they discover that he is Polish and a talented violinist. The youth Andreas, ably played by the German actor Daniel Bruehl, awakens new feelings in both sisters – for Janet (Smith), whose husband was killed in the First World War, he becomes the child she never had, and for Ursula (Dench), who has never married, he represents the love she never experienced.
So when the beautiful Olga (Natascha McElhone) turns up and wants to take Andreas away to introduce him to her brother who is a famous Russian violinist, they both become jealously overprotective. Eventually, Andreas starts to function without the sisters, and of course he has to make his way without them. Janet must part with her replacement child, and Ursula must part with her imaginary lover. The film is thread through with melancholy, embellished by beautiful landscapes and lifted by a great score. It is a sweet tale, well told, with lovely performances from the always reliable Dench and Smith.
But I think tonight, after all this sweet romance and genteel longing, it might be time to fire up my knitting needles and watch some Sex In The City. What else is a chick to do when her man’s got the flu?