Sunday, March 1, 2015

Steampunk Granny's Review of Babette's Feast


I love watching foreign films. Babette’s Feast premiered in 1987 as Babettes gaestebud. It is a Danish film directed by Gabriel Axel and produced by Just Betzer, Bo Christensen and Benni Korzen. It’s based on a story by Isak Dinesen (Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke). It was the first Danish film to win The Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.


The film starred Birgitte Federspiel as Martine and Bodil Kjer as Philippa as two elderly, pious, Christian sisters who lived in a small village in 19th century Denmark. Their father, who was a pastor, is now dead and the sisters are now providing for the congregation. He was a selfish man and turned away all the suitors that came to the village wishing to marry his beautiful daughters.


Many years later, the spinster sisters receive a letter from Achille Papin, the opera star from Paris who had fell in love with Philippa. The woman who delivers this letter, Babette Hersant (Stephane Audran) is a refugee from the bloody French Revolution. He begs the sisters to take Babette in as a housekeeper. The sisters can’t afford a housekeeper, but Babette solves that little problem by working for free.

Babette came to the sisters with only a small suitcase and a lottery ticket. A friend in Paris buys her a new ticket each year. She never tells the sisters what she did in Paris before coming to the desolate village of Jutland. Over time, the sisters consider this quiet French woman as a friend. They don’t understand her ways, but they really care about her.


You can tell from the start that Babette was from the upper class in Paris by the way she carries herself with people and by the way she cooks. As caretakers of their father’s congregation, the sisters delivered food to the shut-ins. Their cooking leaves much to be desired. It sucks! But, when you’re bedridden, you eat what you’re given. Babette takes over the cooking and the delivery of the food to shut-ins. The food is good; the meals slurped up in pleasure. The sisters never know how to handle the modest but tasty variations of their menus. Their bland meals considered more appropriate for a Christian home.


One day, Babette receives word that she’s won the lottery. 10,000 francs is a lot of money and, I expected Babette to use that money to go back to Paris or anywhere other than Jutland, but she didn’t. The sisters have been good to her and even though the congregation considered her strange, they opened their hearts to Babette as well. Babette has her nephew spend the money on food. Babette plans to create a feast for the village.

The Dinner

Babette has a choice, return to Paris and her old lifestyle or prepare a feast for the sisters who took her in. Babette picked the feast. The sisters invite the congregation to this feast including one of Martine’s former suitors who is now a famous general married to a member of the Queen’s court. Lorens (Jarl Kulle) is in the village visiting his aunt. Lorens is a man of the world and familiar with gourmet dishes. While the other guests eat, but withhold complements because they think the food, overly lavish, unchristian and perhaps sinful, the general raves over each dish that is served. He has good reason to be so enchanted.


Babette, before the revolution, was the head chef of the Café Anglasis. As Babette works her magic in the kitchen, we are no longer a woman preparing a meal. Babette takes that food and creates a love story for the senses that is just as beautiful as any painting in the Louvre. By the time desert is served, the frugal congregation realizes this simple truth and they leave the sisters’ home satisfied physically and spiritually.
The story is simple, but it draws you in gently stirring your appetite and your soul into a soufflé of delight. You should do yourself a favor and rent this film if you can. Do it on an empty stomach. Then while the credits role at the end, enter your kitchen and create your own masterpiece.

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