Saturday matinee – Babette’s Feast

One of my all time favourites!

Babette’s Feast (Danish: Babettes gæstebud) is a 1987 Danish film directed by Gabriel Axel. The film’s screenplay was written by Gabriel Axel based on the story by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen).  It was the first Danish film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

In 19th century Denmark, two adult sisters live in a tiny, isolated village with their father, who is the pastor of a small, austere, Protestant church that is almost a sect unto itself. Although they each experience romance, and are presented with a real opportunity to leave the village, the sisters choose to stay with their father, to serve him and their church.

After their father dies, a French refugee, Babette, arrives at their door, begs them to take her in, and commits herself to work for them as maid / housekeeper / cook.

Some fourteen years later, the sisters decide to hold a dinner to commemorate the 100th anniversary of their father’s birth. Babette implores the sisters to allow her to take charge of the preparation of the meal. Although they are secretly concerned about what Babette, a Catholic and a foreigner, might do, the sisters allow her to go ahead.

Babette, having come into a bit of fortune, travels to France for the ingredients.  As the various never-before-seen ingredients arrive, and preparations commence, the sisters begin to worry that the meal will be, at best, a great sin of sensual luxury, and at worst some form of devilry or witchcraft. In a hasty, tearful conference, the sisters and the congregation agree to eat the meal, but to forego any pleasure in it, and vow to make no mention of the food during the entire dinner.

The only one not aware of this vow, one sister’s former suitor – now a famous general married to a member of the Queen’s court – arrives as one of the guests (his aunt is the local lady of the manor and a member of the old pastor’s congregation).  All his attempts to speak about the magnificent meal are rebuffed or ignored.

But the extraordinary meal by an artist of a chef, not to mention the highest quality wine (they assume it’s some kind of fruit juice…), breaks down all inhibitions, and the bitter, stern, constantly quarreling diners become mellow, loving, forgiving, it raises their spirits to the point that after the meal they grasp hands and dance in a circle in the moonlight.

This clip shows only a portion of that meal.  A scene that is subtle, classic, and wonderfully funny.

Have you had a special meal that was like “a love affair”?

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