Films for Foodies #5–Babette’s Feast

Babette_making eyes at the tableBabette’s Feast

Denmark, 1987

Written and directed by Gabriel Axel

Based on the novel by Karen Blixen (penned as Isak Dineson)

Available to stream on HuluPlus

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By guest blogger Carissa Rau

Babette’s Feast doesn’t focus on food much until the smorgasbord in the third act. We see the opposite, actually: a community of good Christians in Jutland, Denmark have been depriving themselves of worldly pleasures, like tasty food, to discipline themselves and focus on spiritual pleasures. They eat the blandest food they can stomach. Imagine oatmeal without brown sugar, cinnamon, or butter. Imagine eating soupy carpet.

The good Christians’ pastor has died and left behind his two smokin’ hot, devoted daughters, Martine and Philippa. They have some suitors, but are turned off by their crazy lifestyle and habits, like adding spices to dishes and wearing colored socks.

One fateful day, Philippa’s opera star suitor sends a homeless, jobless Parisian refugee named Babette to her doorstep. Babette cooks bland food for the sisters (at their request) and lets them live their dull-toned lives for far too long.

Back in Paris, Babette’s nephew renews a lottery ticket for her every year. You know what happens. She wins 10,000 holy francs. The sisters think she’s going back home, but no. Babette’s life and passion is fine French food. To begin to let the community in on this major part of her life would be like describing the Grand Canyon to a blind man. So Babette orders crates and boxes and barrels of her favorite French ingredients. She’s going to cook, not tell.

Babette pastor daughtersBabette invites the congregation to dine with her. They have no idea what these incredible dishes are or what it’s doing to their bodies. They haven’t tasted this kind of cuisine ever. Some people involuntarily moan. Most try to hide their splendor. Some just start making out in the corner, because good food and wine can get you like that.

The congregation discovers, through the greatest meal of their lives, that Babette was once the head chef of a fabulously famous restaurant in France, the Café Anglais. What the guests don’t know is that the café charges around 10,000 francs for a meal of this intensity. Martine soon learns that Babette is fresh out of francs, and tells her, “Now you’ll be poor for the rest of your life.” Babette gives her stellar comeback, “An artist is never poor.”

Babette’s feast is indeed a work of art and it is beyond extravagant. It makes you feel as though you’ve been eating soupy carpet while looking at the Grand Canyon with your eyes closed.

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