Sisters Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kjer) live an isolated, simple and devoutly pious life off the coast of 19th-century Jutlan, a serene but profoundly empty place.
Sisters Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kjer) live an isolated, simple and devoutly pious life off the coast of 19th-century Jutlan, a serene but profoundly empty place. Their late father, leader of a tight-knit sect of Christianity, had successfully united Jutland’s small rural community through his sermons. The pastor died long ago when Martine and Philippa were stunning young beauties. The film flashes back to this distant past, illuminating the sisters’ unattainable hands in marriage, as various suitors are deemed unworthy for the righteous women.
Now in their old age, the sisters have the honor of leading the congregation under the values that their father established. Troublingly, as time passes, the citizens of the sect become unorderly. The worshippers begin to accuse one another of sin.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, Babette (Stephane Audran) arrives at the sisters’ house under the recommendation of one of Philippa’s old suitors and requests to work under their roof, free of wage, if they will offer her a place to stay away from the bloodshed of Paris in its counter-revolutionary plight.
After serving the sisters for a decade and a half, Babette is blessed with an opportunity. But before taking it, she insists on cooking a celebratory dinner for the sisters with the use of her own money to honor the life of their father on his birthday.
The scenery of the feast is both horrendous and undeniably tempting. The sight of the food in its preparatory stage—which is exotic, to say the least—invigorates not only the sense of taste, but also all other senses in the viewer. Each preceptor of the body is engulfed in a longing for the finest vitality of nutrients. Frankly, the scenes induce appetite like a dangling sirloin to a dog.
Though the feast is at first troubling to the citizens, who fear they are engaging in gluttonous activity, there is something about the food that appears to bring all the citizens together (or maybe it’s really all that Clos de Vogueot that’s got them feeling friendly). Because it won an Academy Award, I’m convinced it’s something deeper than drunkenness that has reunited the sect, although the movie really does nothing to make me think otherwise.
“Babette’s Feast” is visually sensational. The story is very simple, with no unforeseen plot twists or melodramatic characters; everything regarding the scenes is shot with meticulous planning to deliver an extremely sincere portrait of Jutland’s country life. At first drenched in drab and gray-laden imagery, the scenes become increasingly colorful and tastefully vibrant as Babette prepares the dinner. This speaks not only to the physical energy entailed by food, but also its overall vibrancy—food as the fuel for the soul as well as body.
On the other hand, the plot is not so exhilarating. I waited for something scandalous to happen, as often does in tales about the purest of religious sects. Alas, just a moral of some kind in the end. In essence, “Babette’s Feast” is neither drama nor comedy (though it definitely features bouts of subtle wit), and it is anything but an action flick. No, “Babette’s Feast” is the kind of film you watch when you’re too lazy to walk through an art gallery. ?