I want to start this film blog with a film that would best depict what kind of movies I will be discussing. Instead of the well-known and popular choices like La Dolce Vita or Breathless (A Bout de Souffle) you will find films that some may have forgotten, but to me are the best films European cinema has to offer.
This week I chose Babette’s Feast (Babettes gæstebud), a Danish film from 1987 directed by Gabriel Axel. It tells the story of two sisters, Martina (Birgitte Federspiel) and Philipa (Bodil Kjer) who live in a small hamlet on the shore of Jutland. The film depicts their ascetic upbringing inspired by their father, the founder of a Christian sect. Even when he dies the two sisters continue to live modestly and practice their religion with the few followers of the sect. With time, however, the faith of the people in the hamlet is weakened by petty quarrels and arguments.
One day an unknown French woman, Babette, appears at the doorstep of Philipa and Martina’s house asking for shelter. Babette stays in their house working as a cook and adapts to the modest life of the two sisters. After fourteen years she receives a letter from her cousin stating that she won 10,000 francs in a lottery. However, Babette decides to spend the money on nothing else but a huge feast, preparations for which take the whole second half of the film.
Many have ascribed a redemptive interpretation to the story in Axel’s film. Babette in return for refuge found in the house of Marina and Philipa spends all her money on a dinner to reunite the members of the Christian sect. She has abandoned her life in Paris and for fourteen years serves both sisters, living on dry fish and stale bread. Though Babette’s presence is vital for the community, it seems that Axel wanted to put emphasis on the latter.
Ironically, it is reunification and remembrance of the pastor at a feast worth 10,000 francs that brings them back together and not fasting and self-deprivation. The simplicity of the story makes one notice these values of community, which needn’t be embellished by Christian interpretations.
Babette’s Feast is not only a tribute to French cuisine (though it’s ok if one watches it for this reason) but also a film-feast, which should enter the canon of European classics.