Dessert: On "Babette's Feast" and the Cinema of Cuisine
Talking about the classic 1987 Oscar winner “Babette’s Feast” with chef Ana Sortun (see the Watchcast that went up earlier today) gives me an occasion to revisit an ode to the movie I wrote several years ago, for a cookbook project that never came to fruition. The piece still sums up my feelings about a film that grows richer and more mysteriously complex the more times you sample it. I offer it to paid subscribers as an after-dinner amusement.
Babette’s Feast (Denmark, 1987, **** stars out of ****)
In a tiny 19th-century seaside village in Denmark, two aging sisters, Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Filippa (Bodil Kjer), tend to the elderly flock of their late father’s religious sect. Both women refused chances for love in their youth; both now live a life of charitable, spartan renunciation. A refugee from the revolutions in France is sent to live with them: Babette (Stéphane Audran, above), whose past is ambiguous but who knows her way around a kitchen and so becomes the sisters’ cook. Years pass and Babette comes into sudden wealth; in gratitude, she vows to prepare a true French banquet for the sisters and their parishioners. Also attending is Martine’s former love, now an aging General (Jarl Kulle). The villagers sit down for the feast with near terror at its sumptuous decadence, but the meal becomes a kind of holy communion of body and spirit. Babette, it turns out, is the former chef at the Café Anglais in Paris and an artist of the first rank.
Is Babette’s Feast the best food movie of all time? It’s difficult to argue otherwise; in no other film are the storytelling and the meals equally sublime.