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Artistic, sensual and sacred passions unite in Babette's Feast. Written and directed by Gabriel Axel, from a short story by Out of Africa's Isak Dinesen, this Oscar(r)-winning*film offers "an irresistible mixture of dry wit and robust humanity" (Newsweek). Onthe desolate coast of Denmark live Martina and Philippa, the beautiful daughters of a devout clergyman who preaches salvation through self-denial. Both girls sacrifice youthful passion to faith and duty, and even many years after their father's death, they keep his austere teachings alive among thetownspeople. But with the arrival of Babette, a mysterious refugee from France's civil war, life for the sisters and their tiny hamlet begins to change. Soon, Babette has convinced them to try something truly outrageousa gourmet French meal! Her feast, of course, scandalizes the local elders. Just who is this strangely talented Babette, who has terrified this pious town with the prospect of losing their souls for enjoying too much earthly pleasure? *1987: Foreign Language Film
Some movies can only be described as delicious. In Babette's Feast, a woman flees the French civil war and lands in a small seacoast village in Denmark, where she comes to work for two spinsters, devout daughters of a puritan minister. After many years, Babette unexpectedly wins a lottery, and decides to create a real French dinner--which leads the sisters to fear for their souls. Joining them for the meal will be a Danish general who, as a young soldier, courted one of the sisters, but she turned him away because of her religion. The village elders all resolve not to enjoy the meal, but can their moral fiber resist the sensual pleasure of Babette's cooking? Babette's Feast deservedly won the 1987 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This lovely movie is impeccably simple, yet its slender narrative contains a wealth of humor, melancholy, and hope. --Bret Fetzer
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Everyone in the film has had a hard life and has had to make sacrifices that leave them wondering what might have been. This is most true with the three central characters. The two sisters each gave up a possibly happier life for the sake of their minister father and his austere Lutheran sect. Martine gave up the love of a young lieutenant and Filippa a possibly great career as a star on the operatic stage. Babette was the greatest chef at one of the most famed restaurants in Paris but had to spend her years in this small village preparing dried fish and bread soup and tending to a small cottage. After fourteen years have passed the congregation is down to seven older villagers who are quarrelsome and bitter. Babette's life is, at the very least, circumscribed after her life in Paris during the heyday of the Second Empire.
After winning a lottery, as thanks to those who took her in (and, I think, to show herself that she could still do it), Babette prepares an elaborate French dinner such as she might have made at the Cafe Anglais. The mere arrival of the ingredients sets the villagers ablaze with concern with the possible sinfulness of such a meal. But all goes well. Though the villagers could not even begin to comprehend the quality of the meal with which they are being presented, a recent arrival is there who can appreciate it, a very nice touch.
By the end of the feast the guests are full of forgiveness and love. Even the old carriage driver and the young kitchen-boy Eric are happy and content. The film works on many levels and must be experienced to fully appreciate it. it deservedly won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1988. I watch it every few years and this year showed it for guests after Thanksgiving dinner. It was wonderfully appropriate.
The film itself is an exquisite adaptation of Isak Dinesen's equally jeweled short story (in "Anecdotes of Destiny," 1958). Don't be put off by the Danish production and subtitles: apart from some necessary exposition and an eloquent climax, much of the film is silent and could be well understood through its contrasting visuals: the bleakness of a poor community, invaded by unexpected shafts of the glory of a makeshift French kitchen and banquet.
If you are of a religious inclination, this film and its underlying story is one of the finest artistic representations of divine providence I have ever seen or hope to see. If you are not at all religious but retain even a glimmer of hope for the human race, this is also one of the finest expressions of human goodness even committed to film. It is not treacly: goodness carries cost, but the price is worth paying. Portraying evil in cinema is easy; goodness, much harder. Finally, this is a film for artists of all stripes: a testimony of the power of a talent, well used, to uplift the human spirit. "Babette's Feast" is to be savored, over and again.