“Through all the world there goes one long cry from the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost.” -“Babette’s Feast”
This is my final offering regarding Thanksgiving films about food, and by far my favorite.
Babette’s Feast, adapted from Danish writer Isak Dinesen’s novelette of the same name, is a warm and witty period piece about a culinary artist who, through her skills, binds the wounds of a small community in 19th century Denmark.
Martine and Philippa are the children of a charismatic minister who established a religious sect many years before in rural Jutland. The minister has passed on; however, the sisters continue to lead their father’s congregation through piety, good works, and prayer. The community members lead austere lives, dressing and eating very plainly. For example, a typical meal consists of dried codfish and ale-and-bread soup.
Into the lives of this community comes a mysterious stranger, Babette. Babette is a homeless refugee from France, and she begs for assistance from the two sisters. They agree to take on the Frenchwoman, who will cook and keep house for them in exchange for room and board.
After a time, Martine and Philippa decide to host a dinner in celebration of their late father. This will be something of a challenge, because infighting and gossip has compromised relationships among the congregants. Babette responds by making a simple request: Out of gratitude for what the sisters have done, she would like to prepare a French meal for the congregation.
Little do the sisters know that Babette is hiding a huge secret about her cooking skills. I couldn’t possibly let you know what that secret is; or how the French meal is financed; or why Babette ended up in Denmark in the first place. You’ll just have to stay for dessert!
Babette’s Feast won the 1987 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. You can purchase a DVD of this film at the following link:
Karen Blixen (1885-1962), whose pen name was Isak Dinesen, is probably best known to movie-goers as the main character in director Sydney Pollock’s 1985 film Out of Africa, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. During her youth, Blixen led an adventurous life, moving to Kenya with her husband to start a coffee plantation, and dallying with the famous big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton. The plantation and the marriage failed, Hatton was killed in a plane crash, and Blixen was forced to return to Denmark.
It was at that point that Blixen began her writing career, completing Seven Gothic Tales in 1933. This work was followed by Winter’s Tales and Out of Africa, a biography about Blixen’s life in Kenya. “Babette’s Feast” was part of a final collection of short stories, Anecdotes of Destiny, completed a few years before Blixen’s death.
Although Blixen was a 20th century writer, her stories were usually set in the 19th century. They can be intricate and often include tales within tales, with one revelation after another. (By the way, backstory and revelation are integral to “Babette’s Feast.”) Meanwhile, the reader cannot help but follow each fascinating story strand.
Pluses: Burnished cinematography matches the tone and period of the movie; intricate, entertaining plot with transcendent finale; great performances by all players; and that decadent French meal!
Minus: Yes, once again I’m recommending a foreign film with subtitles. Stay with it and you’ll be rewarded
Cast: Stephanie Audran, Birgitte Federspiel, Bodil Kjer, Jarl Kulle, Bibi Andersson, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Vibeke Hastrup, Ghita Norby
Director: Gabriel Axel
Language: French-Danish with English subtitles
Length: 102 minutes
“Karen Blixen” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 23 October 2016. Web. 21 November 2016.