Babette’s Feast (1987)

Babette's FeastDevout sisters Anna and Martina reject the opportunity to leave their sparse Danish village. Thirty-five years later, a French cook named Babette appears at their door seeking respite from the French revolution’s terrors. Fortune smiles upon Babette when she wins the lottery. She prepares a feast to thank the sisters for their kindness and to give them a taste of the world outside their village.

Starring: Ghita Norby, Asta Esper Andersen, More

Director: Gabriel Axel

This months pick, Babette’s Feast, comes with a few words to prepare you in advance, in a way that the above film blurb does not! At first glance one would think that this movie is one that falls into the category of luscious food movies, of which there have been many great examples in the last few years like Eat Drink Man Woman or Like Water for Chocolate. This movie is not in that category! Yes there is a luscious feast, but that doesn’t happen until nearly the end of the movie. You won’t see anything that resembles ready to eat good food until about one hour and 12 minutes in, when someone says, “dinner is served”! Everything that happens prior to that point in the movie is superbly necessary in order to setup and deliver the powerful message that this movie has to offer.

The blurb fails to mention that what the sisters Anna and Martina are devoted to are; their father and his strict and, dare I say dogmatic, Christian teachings! (Let me go on record in order to avoid angry e-mails! This is not an attack on Christianity or any other spiritual belief system! I believe all religions and all spiritual teachings contain the same universal truths, it is the dogmatic adherence to variations of the universal theme, that creates the conflict between and thus fear of different spiritual perspectives!) That said, ….. Anna & Martina’s father is a widely known minister who teaches adherence to a strict interpretation of Christian values and commandments, rejecting nearly all pleasures of the flesh. The entire village lives by them. By viewing this movie you will experience living in a simple, sparse and beautiful Danish seaside village during the time of the French revolution from that perspective and worldview. The rejection of simple pleasures is so complete that it might to be, at times, uncomfortable to watch. Especially if the viewer possesses a mindset that puts pleasure and enjoyment in a completely different light! …Therein lay the first of the many lessons I found in this movie. Does their rejection of so many of the simple pleasures that someone embraces, embraces make them wrong? The answer is no, it only means that they have different point of view. And that each from their point of view are absolutely right. The grains of universal truths however distorted they might seem in their application to living, are there for both points of view.

You will see that love is even rejected, by both sisters, in the face of what they believed to be a more important and spiritual duty. If when watching this film, this ascetic mindset begins to bother you at all, please don’t let it make you reach for the remote! I encourage you to keep watching, because at 1 hour and 26 minutes and 45 seconds, you will receive the gift that this movie has to offer! And that is, one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever found in film. This entire message is delivered in under two minutes by the soldier who appeared earlier in the film and is the love possibility that is rejected by one of the sisters. When he returns 35 years later for a celebration in memory of the deceased minister’s birthday, he finds an out of this world, unexpected and truly amazing culinary experience! It is this meal that moves him to deliver two of the best minutes to be found in film!

A quick synopsis! The young soldier misses out on love, and so departs, to become a man of the world. 35 years later, he returns for a birthday celebration in memory of the father of the lost love he never forgot. He had risen to the rank of general, a man of privilege and therefore a man who knows, understands and appreciates the pleasures of fine food and wine. With his memory of the stark simplicity of the place, he is certainly not expecting to share in anything resembling a grand banquet! Babette, whose presence there is directly connected to the other sisters rejection of love, many years earlier, has been living with the sisters for some months after escaping from the terrors of the French revolution. Babette, an accomplished chef, has been cooking for the sisters in return for being allowed to stay with them. Her cooking is of course limited to the simple bland foods there were customary in this village. And boy, is it bland! …When she wins the French lottery, and asks them to allow her to prepare the upcoming birthday feast as thanks for their kindness of taking her in. They reluctantly agree but become fearful when they witness the arrival of lavish ingredients for the meal, that are way beyond their experience and imaginations. So in a fearful mindset, the sisters gather the villagers together, where they agree, for the protection of their very souls, that during the meal they will not speak of it, they not be conscious of the taste of it and they will certainly not enjoy it! Their collective rejection, in contrast to the worldly general’s enjoyment of the meal, is priceless as it demonstrates a great deal about the nature and source of truth, the power and significance of choice and the role of perspective in all of that! I will say no more so as not to spoil the bliss of the general’s words and of the last 13 minutes of this film! Bon appetite!

Remember, you are what you watch! Mark Firehammer