Posts Tagged ‘Danish films’

I watched ‘Babette’s Feast’ today. It is directed by Gabriel Axel and is based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, who also wrote‘Out of Africa’.



The story is about two Danish girls, Martine and Philippa, whose father is the local pastor. When young men show interest in these two girls, who are very beautiful, and ask for their hands in marriage, their father typically rejects them. The young women grow up and become old and continue their father’s good work. One day a younger woman arrives at their place. She is French and her name is Babette. She gives our heroines an introduction letter which is from an old French singer who courted Philippa when she was younger. The letter says that Babette had to leave France because her family was killed in the civil war. He requests the sisters to help her. The sisters take her in. Babette’s initially learns the chores from them and then is able to handle everything on her own, including the cooking.


One day a letter arrives from France for Babette, which says that she has won ten thousand Francs in the lottery. The sisters think that Babette will go back to France. Babette says that she wants to organize a French style feast for the sisters and their friends and congregation to celebrate their father’s hundredth birthday. The sisters, after some initial reluctance, agree to the plan. Babette goes to France, gets her lottery winnings, and comes back with the ingredients required for the French feast. When the sisters see the ingredients – which include a live turtle, quail and French wine – they get uncomfortable. Martine has nightmares about it and feels that having a feast like this is sinful. The sisters gather together their friends and tell them that though they would all go to the feast, they won’t think or talk about the food and they will ignore the taste.


The day of the feast arrives. An army general, who courted Martine, when he was a young officer, also comes to the feast with his mother. Everyone is apprehensive when the food is served. And then magic happens. The feast is divine. Each dish is a work of art – in colour, in appearance, in taste. The guests lose themselves in the sensual pleasures of food, which also brings them together as people and makes them remember their lives, their past, their loves. The feast magically transforms everyone’s hearts. After the feast all the guests go outside and hold their hands and dance in a circle while gazing at the beautiful twinkling stars. Martine and Philippa thank Babette for her wonderful feast. They then discover that she was a famous French cook. They also realize that she has spent all her lottery winnings on the feast to make them and their friends happy and also to practise her art to the best of her ability one last time. They also realize that she is not going to Paris but is going to stay with them.


I loved ‘Babette’s Feast’. It is a celebration of food – almost spiritual in its intensity and vision. It is also a celebration of love and art and beauty. When Babette says towards the end – “I don’t cook. I practise art” – it gave me goose bumps. I wish I was there at Babette’s feast, taking a sip of the ‘Clos de Vougeot 1845’ and trying out Babette’s delicious works of art.


I read an essay on the movie, after watching it. It had this beautiful passage which I loved – “The spectacular repast that crowns the film conjures up a vision of spiritual well-being created by the transcendent artistry of a chef who sacrifices all for her art and, through that art, recreates her country. This restitution of place and resurrection of time makes the most powerful case yet for the intimate drama of culinary metamorphosis.”


‘Babette’s Feast’ won many awards when it came out, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 1987. I can see why. If you like movies which celebrate the pleasures of food, you will love this. Recommended J

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