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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Babette’s Feast

Or: “Let it Soak”

The above subtitle is taken from a line in the film when the eponymous heroine is being instructed in the universal point of Danish cooking. But it is also sage advice for those watching the film, be not quick to judge this crusty and dense film about crusty and dense people, for with time you’ll see them break through their crustiness and blossom like so many northern flours.

In the year 1871, In a tiny, isolated, and extremely devout Danish village, two sisters (Brigettie Fedrspiel and Bodil Kjer) have lived into old age by doing good works for the poor. In their youth they had their chance at, and refused, to follow the call of love and now exist purely on piety. One night they are visited by a french housekeeper, Babette (Stephane Audran), fleeing war torn France and seeking safety and employment. After fourteen years of service an unexpected turn of fortune calls Babette back to france, and before departing she is determined to make for her sisters and her adoptive community a feast the like of which has not been seen. Will she succeed in finding the ingredients in this cold and poor country? And even if so, will the sisters and their fellows rise off their knees to enjoy some earthly delights?

For a period drama, Babette’s feast lacks the panting romances and cutting glances that usually go part and parcel with the drama. It demands no great and storming tour de force from any of its cast, though, as the film soaks throughout an evening little, honest reactions explode across the screen with the same force as the wildest antics.

Audran barely lifts her face from its dour set throughout the film, but generously projects her expressions through a twitch here and an eye roll there. Her satisfaction during the mouthwatering preparation of the feast, or her horror at the whole soaking concept of bread and fish and greens are as clear as day. For all her frosty demeanor and servitude she proves time and time again that the only thing more haughty and self assured than a French Aristocrat is a French Chef. The sisters, if possible do even less, but let their characters for themselves, waling the straight gate of the holy and letting their roster of serene expressions be dictated as G-d commands.

A few words of warning. The film is very religious in its content, and not always in a respectful way. An audience may go from admiring the single bent of the villages faith to yelling, “Philistines! Lunatics! Murderers of Art!” and back again. There are also some extremely brutal scenes featuring some baby quail and a sea turtle, which is not for the empathetic of heart nor the weak of stomach.

Still the film is a touching comedy (yes, a comedy) of manners, a discussion on the value of faith, and, in its last half hour, a requisite lesson for Artists in all times and all forms.

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