Strangely watchable, even when it’s at its most pretentious, “Martha’s Garden” is a Central European film noir with a grotesque edge. This slim but stylish yarn about a lonely bachelor in the web of a mysterious blonde won’t plant many seeds beyond the festival arbor but is an interesting first feature by semi-experimental Swiss-German helmer Peter Liechti.
Walking along a deserted back street at night, insurance broker Karl (Stefan Kurt) spies a corpse on the sidewalk and a woman, Martha (Susanne Luening), running away. She returns, hugs him, later sends him flowers, beds him and eventually moves in. An obsessively private man, Karl finds his life taken over by the paranoid Martha, who claims she’s on the run from “inhumans,” though she declines to provide any details.
Complete with noirish v.o. and an array of weird, off-center characters, pic has the feel of a story imagined by a sleep-deprived protagonist. There may be a plot beneath all the goings-on, and Martha’s “inhumans” may be doing terrible things in the basement of the hospital where she works; on the other hand, Karl may simply be going slowly mad. Slipping in doses of straight-faced humor, and shooting in high-contrast black-and-white, Liechti keeps the pot bubbling thanks to good perfs by his cast (notably Luening as the edgy, sexy Martha, and Laszlo I. Kish as Karl’s best friend) and a tempo that doesn’t linger.