I did like the film but it wasn't exactly what I thought I was going to see. I have no idea why but I always thought that Babette's Feast featured a bigger woman with blonde hair cooking lots and lots and lots of food maybe having moved to London. I can see a vision in my mind of the poster of the movie I was thinking of, but it most certainly was not this one. I have been racking my brains trying to think of the name of the movie I was thinking of so if those vague clues gave you an inkling of the film I thought I was going to see let me know in the comments. I did think maybe it had something to do with a laundrette but when I looked up My Beautiful Laundrette that was something completely different. Anyway, enough about the movie that I didn't watch. Let's focus on the one I did see!
Babette's Feast is based on a short story by Isak Dinesen set in an isolated fishing village in Denmark in the late 19th century. When the story opens we meet two beautiful young women who live with their Lutheran preacher father. He is a very austere man, living a puritanical life where service to god and community are the most important things and there is no need for beautiful objects or anything but the most basic types of food and drink.
Into the small village come two men, one a soldier and the other a famous opera singer. They each fall in love with one of the sisters but they leave the village alone and the sisters remain where they are, eventually taking over their father's role as the spiritual leaders of the village. Neither of the men forget the sisters despite the years passing, and in due course one of them sends a woman to them asking for their help. Babette has lost all of her family in the French Revolution and now she just wants to have a home away from France so she becomes the cook/housekeeper. Babette lives with the sisters, living very frugally. Gradually she becomes indispensable, helping all the villagers whenever she can and bringing a small amount of joy to those around her. Babette's only link with France in the years that follow is the lottery ticket that her friends buy for her each year.
The villagers are a dour lot. On the surface, it is a very pious community, but running not very far under the surface of are jealousies, both petty and not so petty, grudges held for many years and more serious disagreements. The climate is harsh and, to be honest, so are some of the personalities.
It is really in the second half of the film when Babette starts preparing the feast and then is serving it up that this movie really came to life for me. Prior to that the plot was a little slow and I wasn't quite sure where it was going to go. Once the cooking starts, you see Babette's passion for food shining through and that enjoyment eventually spreads through the guests as well, enabling the viewer to see that it isn't all doom and gloom between the villagers. They do have strong bonds that just have gotten a little lost through all the years of being together. As the plot progresses even the colour scheme of the film seems to gradually change from a very monotone palette to bursting with colour in the final scenes.
This movie apparently made quite an impact when it came out with restaurants recreating the entire menu for special Babette's feast nights. I am not sure that I would necessarily have wanted to participate in such an event. What I found myself pondering as I watched course after course of the feast on the screen is how much fine dining has changed during the last couple of hundred years. I can't imagine walking into a restaurant, no matter how fine, and requesting turtle soup, made from real turtle. Similarly, the idea of the quail is not particularly appealing to me, especially with their little heads tucked into the pastry shell as part of the presentation. Maybe other people could, but I am not sure that I would. Or maybe it is that I am not ready for really fine dining yet!
Here is the menu that Babette served up for the dinner party.
Potage a’la Tortue (Turtle Soup)
Blini Demidoff au Caviar (Buckwheat cakes with caviar)
Caille en Sarcophage avec Sauce Perigourdine (Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras & Truffle Sauce)
La Salade (Salad Course)
Les Fromages (Cheese and Fresh Fruit)
Baba au Rhum avec les Figues (Rum Cake with Dried Figs)
Someone needs to make a really good trailer for this film. The version with an English narrator speaking is terrible. This Danish version (with subtitles) is a bit long and all over the place but you do at least get a feeling for the film! The film took a while to get going, but once it did, it was a delight!