Movies About Food: Babette’s Feast (1987)

“Through all the world there goes one long cry from the artist:  Give me leave to do my utmost.”  -“Babette’s Feast”

babettes-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:

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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

Rating:  G

Country:  Denmark

Language:  French-Danish with English subtitles

In color

Length:  102 minutes

Sources:

“Karen Blixen”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  23 October 2016.  Web.  21 November 2016.

 

 

 

Movies About Food: Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)

“Eat, drink, man, woman, food and sex:  Basic human desires.  Can’t avoid them.”  –A character speaks in “Eat Drink Man Woman.”

Image result for eat drink man woman

Master Chu (Sihung Lung), a chef who works in Taipei, lives through food.  At the beginning of this film, we see him slaughtering chickens, cleaning fish, frying, boiling and steaming delicacies for the Sunday dinner that he always prepares for his three daughters.  It’s the only way he knows how to show affection.  And when his restive progeny begin to move towards marriage and independence and away from Dad, Master Chu starts lavishing his attention on a family friend’s child, showering her with gourmet lunchbox delights.  He just can’t help himself.

Food is the focus of this comedy/drama about an aging widower and his three grown daughters.  Intertwined with the noodles, the crab dumplings, shark fin soup, and roasted claypot pork, are the complicated lives of each principle character.  The eldest daughter (Kuei-Mei Yang) is a school teacher who is receiving mysterious love letters.  The youngest daughter (Yu-Wen Wang), a college student, is involved with her friend’s boyfriend.  The middle daughter (Chien-lien Wu), who inherited her father’s culinary talent, has abandoned her heritage for a career as an airline executive.  Meanwhile, the family friend’s mother (Gua Ah-leh) is throwing herself at Master Chu.

There are surprises revealed in each of these character’s storylines, including the father’s.  Follow through with each “course” of this tale, and you will enjoy a fulfilling “dessert” at story’s end.

You can find this film on instant download or DVD at amazon.com:

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Note:  Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee began his career making films based on Taiwanese subjects (Eat Drink Man Woman, The Wedding Banquet).  He has since become renowned as a versatile story-teller in terms of subject matter:

  • Sense and Sensibility (1995).  Period drama based on Jane Austin’s 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility.
  • The Ice Storm (1997).  A drama about two American families trying to deal with social changes in the 1970’s.
  • Brokeback Mountain (2005).  A heartbreaking love story about two gay cowboys, based on the equally heartbreaking short story by Annie Proulx.
  • Life of Pi (2012).  An inventive yarn about a young boy shipwrecked on a raft with a Bengal tiger.  Based on the novel by Yann Martel.

Pluses:  Enjoyable performances by all actors, incredible food scenes, surprising and enjoyable denouement.

Minus:  Plot a little slow…but the story’s ultimately worth it.

Cast:  Sihung Lung, Kuei-Mei Yang, Chien-lien Wu, Yu-Wen Wang, Gua Ah-leh

Director:  Ang Lee

Rating:  Not Rated

In Color

Country:  Taiwan

Language:  Mandarin, with subtitles

Length:  123 minutes

 

 

 

 

 

Movies about Food: Big Night (1996)

big-night

Stanley Tucci, Marc Anthony, and Tony Shaloub, wondering what to do with the timpano.

In celebration of Thanksgiving, the remainder of this month will be dedicated to movies about food.

Big Night, also known as Big Night in Little Italy, is an engaging character study of two Italian brothers who emigrate to 1950’s America in order to make it as restauranteurs in New Jersey.  Primo (Tony Shaloub from TV’s “Monk”) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) represent two aspects of the American dream.  Secondo is a proponent of the “melting pot” model; he is willing to Americanize the restaurant menu in order to attract more customers.  On the other hand, Primo the chef insists on retaining the purity of old-style Italian cuisine and will not compromise.  At issue is the survival of the brothers’ restaurant.

Across the street from Primo and Secondo is Pascal’s thriving Italian-American bistro.  Pascal (Ian Holm) has long wanted to secure chef Primo for his own kitchen.  Nevertheless, he throws a bone to the brothers in order to ensure their success.  He promises that he will pull some strings and get legendary singer Louis Prima to show up at the brothers’ restaurant if they pull a gourmet dinner together for Louis and his patrons.  What occurs next is a parade of succulent sequences where wonderful, mouthwatering dishes are produced.  A new dish I learned about while watching Big Night:  Timpano (pictured above), a festive bucket of baked pasta, meat, eggs, cheeses, sauces and God knows what else, sliced and served like a huge layer cake.

The primary delight in this show is the interplay between Tucci and Shaloub.  These two fine actors say more with silent gestures and looks than others communicate with pages of dialog.  They are complemented by supporting performances from Ian Holm, Isabella Rosselini, Minnie Driver, Marc Anthony, and Allison Janney.  Adding to it all are great period costuming and shots of restaurant interiors typical of the 1950’s.

This film can be accessed on amazon.com at the following link:

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***

Pluses:  Great performances by all involved; wonderful shots of restaurant interiors; fun period costuming; love the Louis Prima/Rosemary Clooney soundtrack; poignant final scene…and that timpano!

Minus:  Plot sometimes moves a bit leisurely

Cast:  Stanley Tucci, Tony Shaloub, Ian Holm, Isabella Rosselini, Minnie Driver, Allison Janney, Marc Anthony

Director:  Campbell Scott/Stanley Tucci

Rating:  R for language and some sexuality

In Color

Length:  107 minutes