Thursday, April 9, 2015

Babette's Feast

Babettes gaestebud; drama, Denmark, 1987; D: Gabriel Axel, S: Stephane Audran, Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel, Jarl Kulle, Jean-Philippe Lafont

Denmark, 19th century. Sisters Martine and Philippa lead a small Christian community of only a dozen people after their father, who founded it, died. They never got married and spend their time preparing ascetic meals for the old inhabitants. They get support from a French woman, Babette, who is a refugee from the bloodshed in Paris. She helps them cook over the next 14 years. After Babette wins 10,000 francs from a lottery, she decides to spend the money to finally prepare a delicious, unrestricted feast for the community. The dinner is fantastic, a success, whereas Martine's former suitor Lorens also drops by to visit her.

Despite its critical acclaim, "Babette's Feast" is a slightly overrated achievement, a good film that becomes great only in two dialogue scenes spoken by general Lorens later on. The whole intro and the opening are slightly unnecessary, since the characters are never truly rounded up for such a long time invested in them, outside their religious beliefs, and the finale is the film's highlight anyway, since everything is built up to it, the gorgeous, rich and abundant 30-minute sequence of a feast that will finally sate the ascetic inhabitants who always ate only diet cuisine. Unfortunately, just as the commune's cuisine is bland in the first hour, such is the storyline as well, which seems to be inherent to the richness and quality of the food itself. Unfortunately, the dinner is a little meagre itself, or better said, it could have been elaborated more for the viewer to get a real feeling of exquisite food, which is why it is a too 'diet' achievement to become a real film-delicatessen about gastronomy, such as "Eat Drink Man Woman" or "Ratatouille". Director Gabriel Axel crafts the film in an elegant and refreshingly simple, humble way, though, showing "little people" who are modest and who find fulfilment in their modest, traditional lives. The two aforementioned moments where "Feast" finally becomes a true feast for a brink of a time, arrives in the form of two fantastic, contemplative and philosophical dialogues by general Lorens at the dinner, who is so overwhelmed by its taste he recalls a French cook who made dinners "like a love affair, where you could not distinguish between physical and spiritual taste anymore", and the second one is when he makes a toast about self-sacrifice, adding how later on "everything we rejected has also been granted. And yes, we even get back what we rejected. For mercy and truth have met together."


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