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Babette's Feast, for me, is about healing: mending the schism between spirit and body in orthodox Christianity. This puritanical community in remote Denmark is missing an adequate appreciation of all of God's gifts in creation. They have taken the dualism of St. Paul to an extreme, and stress the life of the "spirit," not the life of the "flesh." Both elderly sisters, in their youth, were frightened by the lure of love and the temptations of life outside their simple village. They, and their parishioners, cling to the narrow biblical interpretation of their former leader, and the sisters' father. The aging congregation has become testy and quarrelsome, and the sisters don't know what to do. Enter Babette, a French stranger, and someone to whom they can show kindness. They have no way of knowing that she will ultimately return their kindness and give fertile soil to their dry, dusty theology. Babette will give everything she has, and in the process, will teach the sisters and their flock about grace, about sacrifice, about how sensual experience (as in the bread and wine of the Eucharist) can change lives, and about why true art moves us so deeply. When they can forgive each other, and themselves, they can focus on God's love that unfolds before them in a concrete way in the present. As a minister, and an artist, I can't recommend a movie more highly. True art and true grace!!
Flawlessly directed, written, performed, and filmed, this quiet and
unpretentious Danish film is an example of cinema at its best, and if a
person exists who can watch BABETTE'S FEAST without being touched at a
very fundamental level, they are a person I do not care to know.
The story is quite simple. In the 1800s, two elderly maiden ladies (Birgitte Federspiel and Bodil Kjer) reside in remote Jutland, where they have sacrificed their lives, romantic possibilities, and personal happiness in order to continue their long-dead father's religious ministry to the small flock he served. One of the women's youthful admirers sends to them a Frenchwoman, Babette (Stéphane Audran), whose husband and son have been killed in France and who has fled her homeland lest she meet the same fate. Although they do not really require her services, the sisters engage her as maid and cook--and as the years pass her cleverness and tireless efforts on their behalf enables the aging congregation to remain together and the sisters to live in more comfort than they had imagined; indeed, the entire village admires and depends upon her.
One day, however, Babette receives a letter: she has won a lottery and is now, by village standards, a wealthy woman. Knowing that her new wealth will mean her return to France, the sisters grant her wish that she be allowed to prepare a truly French meal for them and the members of their tiny congregation. The meal and the evening it is served is indeed a night to remember--but not for reasons that might be expected, for Babette's feast proves to be food for both body and soul, and is ultimately her gift of love to the women who took her in and the villagers who have been so kind to her.
The film is extraordinary in every way, meticulous in detail yet not overpowering in its presentation of them. As the film progresses, we come to love the characters in both their simple devotion to God and their all-too-human frailties, and the scenes in which Babette prepares her feast and in which the meal is consumed are powerful, beautiful, and incredibly memorable. There have been several films that have used food as a metaphor for love, but none approach the simple artistry and beauty of BABETTE'S FEAST, which reminds us of all the good things about humanity and which proves food for both body and soul. Highly, highly recommended.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut
to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it
Take the style of Ingmar Bergman, stir in some Lutheranism, add a dash of Guy De Maupassant, a pinch of Chekov (such a severe and forbidding brew!). Mix well with the grand cuisine of nineteenth century France and what do you have? Babette's Feast!
Our story (from an Isak Dinesen short story) is of two lovely maiden sisters from Jutland, the pious daughters of a stern and dictatorial minister, who spurn their chance for love to remained devoted to their austere Protestant creed and to their puritanical and selfish father. We are subjected to the bleak, harsh winters, to the endless hours of knitting, to the long silences and the sighs upon sighs... Ah, the Danes, the Norwegians, the Swedes, how beautifully they brood! We see the barren beauty of Martina, who so enchanted the young cavalryman that when he could not melt her cold, cold heart, he instead vowed to be a success, and succeeded! And then there came the baritone from the Paris opera who heard her sister Phillipa's soprano voice at choir and fell immediately and hopeless in love with her, and sought to train her voice and carry her away. But no, he too could not melt the snows of her near Arctic heart, and so returned to Paris where he played out his (now) empty career.
Flash forward to the entrance of Babette, whom the opera singer sends many years later to the sisters to hide from the strife in France. She will be an angel of gastronomy, household management and common sense who will mend their souls and fill them with joy.
This is a tale of unrequited love. Of love that festers and longs and does not die. How I adore the love stories where the love is never consummated! I love the years of yearning, the melancholy realization that it could never work, and yet, and yet... And then when they are old and past any pretense, how wonderful it is to know that the anticipation, the savoring, the longing, the utter lack of finality, how wonderful THAT was, and how superior to a banal consummation!
But then, such is not the usual taste. Speaking of tastes, this is not a movie to see on an empty stomach. The climatic feast of turtle soup, quail in pastry, rich sauces, dessert, fromage, fruit, etc., washed down with amontillado, champagne, etc. will wet your appetite. A little stunning for this modest epicure was the Clos de Vougeot, 1845 that the general so admired. Can you imagine how beautiful that wine was, and what it would fetch today!
This is also a tale of Christian piety, and a joining of the Protestant and the Catholic, of how a Lutheran might learn from a Papist, of how the temperate zone might warm the north. How food really is a sacrament.
Anyway, we know from the moment Babette comes to the austere, but grand old pious ladies to cook for them that she is something special. When the ladies show her how to precisely prepare the mundane Danish meals of bread soup and soaked, smoked flounder, we know immediately that she is a great cook; after all she is Parisian, and an opera star has signified her as such. But she modestly says not a word and learns the Danish names and follows faithfully the Danish recipes, as though she were an ingenue. She works for nothing, having lost her family to the bloodshed in France, and what has she to live for but to do what she has to do and do it right. And does she ever!
Babette's Feast is as heart-warming as a Disney tale would love to be. It is as uplifting as a stirring Sousa march, and as satisfying as a seven-course meal at the Grand Hotel in Paris, France. It starts like a novel from the nineteenth century, slow and studied, and before you know it, has captured your fancy. Director Gabriel Axel unfolds the story with precision and a careful attention to detail, but ultimately with an invisible simplicity and economy. What he is saying in the end, is what he has the general pronounce after the sensuous meal (which is quite a moral extravagance, perhaps even a sinfulness for the pious flock): "Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another."
Someday, one hopes in this world, they shall.
Sublime--perfect--profound--a true lesson on the idealized meaning of
life. We get completely caught up in the life journeys of Martina and
Babette. Their yearnings, desires, sacrifices resonant long after the movie has ended. Seeing it years ago--as it was gaining a great deal of notoriety at the audaciousness of its subject matter--half the movie being a single dinner--the audience was "oohing and aahing" as some of the courses took their final
glorious shape, laughing at the reaction of the diners, as they became totally seduced by the gustatorial pleasures being introduced to them by Babette, and being totally surprised at the turn of events at the end of the film. Subsequently seeing the film years later after my own twists and turns of life, I realized just how profound the film is. On this viewing tears flowed freely. The film's
meditation on the passage of time and the way it uses a seemingly simple story to comment on life and love and art and generosity is truly something to
"Babette's Feast" proves that not all film theories and formulas are true
100% of the time. Here's a story where there is no life-or-death
no raging anger, no violent outbursts. Nothing blowed up real good, and
there is nothing resembling a chase scene. The conflict is about the ways
in which people can be nice to each other. Their personal differences of
passion or conviction are not as important as the ways in which they can
connect with each other.
How shockingly refreshing.
There is an undercurrent to this film that gives it the feel of a Garrison Keillor monologue, in that it is built around people's personal foibles and quirks.
Even more refreshing is how "Babette's Feast" manages to be nice without becoming cloying, saccharine, facile, superficial or insincere. People's personal passions are portrayed not only from their own perspective, but from the perspective of the people they affect, with more realism than you usually get in film, yet also with sincere and infectious optimism.
If you don't come away from "Babette's Feast" smiling and feeling better, then you must have been distracted from giving it your full attention. This is one of those very rare films that you can recommend to everyone you know. It is truly in a class by itself. Like Mary Poppins, "Practically perfect in every way."
Utterly charming and subtly stunning.
Stephane Audran is the eponymous heroine of this beautifully measured study of a small Danish community towards the end of the last century. Two beautiful and musically talented sisters give-up their own prospects of happiness and marriage in order to look-after their ageing father. One day, a French woman, Babette, comes to work for them. After some years she wins the lottery and is determined to do something for the sisters who have taken her in. Her solution is to prepare an exquisite and sumptuous feast, which changes the lives of all those invited. This is a film about human and cultural interaction, reflected in the changing language of the dialogue from Danish to French, and especially between the dutiful sobriety of Protestant northern Europe and the sensuousness of the Catholic south. It is also about human needs, and how warmth and kindness can be expressed and stimulated through the cultivation of the senses. A profoundly uplifting film.
This movie came aside as a shock in the eighties.Far from trends,that is to say in the heart of sincere creativity,Babettes gaestebud stands as one of the finest movies of its time.Stephane Audran,the wonderful actress of her ex-husband Claude Chabrol's greatest achievements (le boucher,la rupture,les noces rouges,all unqualified musts for movie buffs)gave a lifetime performance.To see her prepare with love and affection her meal is a feast for the eyes.All the people who saw this masterpiece actually tasted,ate Babette's culinary triumph. But the most moving part of the story is its conclusion:Babette was a great French chef,she was famous,now she found a new homeland but her heyday is behind her and she won't never be allowed to come back to her dear France.So the two old sisters do comfort her:In heaven,there will be huge kitchens where she'll cook for eternity.While sharing her fortune with her new friends,Babette changed their life,she gave them pleasure and a magic evening they would remember forever.In this simple but extraordinary screenplay,human warmth is everywhere,and I wish everybody a Babette's feast,would it be only for one starry night...
The dead spots and picture-postcard superficiality of "Out of Africa" just
about buried any interest I might have had to read Isak Dinesen. So when my
brother bought me "Babette's Feast," and knowing it was based on a Dinesen
story, I didn't exactly race to the VCR. But as the titles rolled, it
became clear that this was no ordinary movie. Jutland (where it's set) is
not Africa; the chill mist that collects on the camera shots is not
inviting. The cold, forbidding sea; the heavy, gray clouds; the pale, icy
green cliffs--translate to hardships that show on the faces over which
director Gabriel Axel draws the curtain. The craggiest is Bodil Kjer's as
Philippa; amid the myriad merits of this movie, the most memorable is that
face. It stands like a map laying before us the cherished wonder of her
minister father's apostolate; like a maze of long-overlooked fjords where
the complications of her congregation's perseverance and commitment hang
like gleaming escutcheons.
I gather it's Dinesen's point how the world is drawn inexplicably to Christian dedication, when Philippa is rejected by her only serious suitor (because he fears he'll never measure up to the rules and rigors of her small religious clique), and he returns to find her mistress of whom he regards as the greatest chef on the continent. I figure it's also her point that Christ answers the doubts and regrets of those who give up worldly success (Philippa's sister Martina rebuffs efforts by a visiting baritone (Jean-Philippe Lafont whose jolliness creates an uplifting counterpoint to the sparsity of spirit that surrounds his discovery) to turn her into an opera star; the title character leaves France and an enviable reputation and seeks sanctuary as the servant of two spinster sisters) to pursue artistic triumphs for only God and those closest to Him to witness. But it's Axel who weaves the asperity of these people's lives with the richness of Martina's voice and Babette Hersant's table and effects a sumptuousness you'd never expect from a movie about sacrifice, faith, and religious conviction.
What sets this movie apart from other religious movies is its sly humor. "Babette's Feast," that is, the banquet itself--a posthumous commemoration of the minister's 100th birthday--is a beautifully orchestrated clash of sensibilities that delivers comic moments by an ensemble of actors that are unparalleled in their subtlety. It's just this deft comedy that enriches the solemn sentiments at closing. Together they do something pious movies seldom do. They leave a believer tremulously hopeful and unexpectedly resolute and humbled.
If you find the first 30 minutes of this film to be so slow that you
wonder why you're watching it, don't give up. Also, hearing the Danish
language is a bit new to most North Americans, who don't see and hear a
lot of Danish films. Anyway, as the film progressed it got better and
better and the viewer is rewarded for his/her patience.
Being a fan of the movie, "Out Of Africa," this film piqued my interest because it's based on a short novel by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), the major character in that film.
The meal - Babette's feast - was amazing. I'm no chef, but I was impressed! How one interprets the story, too, varies, I suppose depending on how much you read into this, and where you stand religion-wise. If the latter, how you look at the definition of "legalism" can affect how you interpret this story.
In any case, it's a fine film, but don't watch this if you're dieting.
This delicately told and moving story about the two devout daughters of a Danish Lutheran minister and their French servant is one of the finest European films of the 1980s. Set in a small, remote, austere Danish seaside town in the mid-19th century, the daughters devote their lives to continuing the work of their father in service of God, and in care for their needy townspeople. One of the daughters had turned down a promising opera career -- and the love of her French voice coach (a famous opera singer himself) -- to remain with her father and the town. Many years later the French singer sends a woman (Babette) -- who had lost her family in an outbreak of civil war -- to live with the sisters. She turns out to be an excellent cook, housekeeper and a shrewd shopper. The story culminates in a sumptuous feast prepared by Babette coinciding with a memorial to the reverend minister's 100th birthday. This delicious screenplay was adapted from the Isak Denisson (pen name for Karen Blixen) short story originally published in the Ladies Home Journal.
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