THE FIVE SENSES: TASTE
“Babette’s Feast,” which I watched during Thanksgiving weekend, might be the best movie for Thanksgiving Day even if it’s not about the holiday. I rented the foreign film due to its reputation as one of the best “food” movies ever. The buzz did not disappoint. As I channel Rachel Ray, I’d want to declare this movie as simply deeee-lish! Yummo!
The story starts by introducing two sisters from a small village in Denmark; they’re “past the first flush of youth.” Their names are Martina and Philippa, daughters of the late and well-respected minister. They’re devout Calvinists, who do good works with their small income. The strange thing is that despite their menial means, the sisters have a French servant: Babette.
The story whips back to September 1871 when Babette knocked on the sisters’ front door. She is a political refugee from Paris and begged the sisters to be their cook and housekeeper; the two women reluctantly agree. Fourteen years later, Babette wins a lottery of 10,000 francs. As a gesture of gratitude, the Frenchwoman asks that she prepares a French dinner for the small religious congregation in honor of the late minister’s birthday. The sisters initially deny Babette; they prefer a modest supper to mark the event. The servant however insists; Babette reminds them that this is the first favor she has asked of them. Again, the two women reluctantly agree.
Akin to cooking itself, the movie starts off slow as it first gathers its ingredients. The first half is practically a set-up that gives us back stories of the village, the sisters, and Babette. Once the French cook wins the lottery, the movie begins to stir its concoction to its savory perfection. A smell of intrigue arises as we wonder what Babette will cook and how the villagers will react. When Babette arrives with the ingredients, which includes a living turtle and a flock of quails, the sisters begin to worry that Babette practices some form of culinary witchcraft. The sisters instantly inform the small congregation of the suspicious feast. Being devout followers of an austere religion, they vow not to give in to the temptation of epicurean bliss. “The tongue,” one of them says. “The tongue – this strange little muscle has accomplished great and glorious deeds for man. But it is also the source of unleashed evil and deadly poison.”
Obviously, the main course of “Babette’s Feast” is Babette’s feast. Even when the cook prepares the dinner, it’s hard not to salivate. And the meal itself? It looks so two-thumbs-up tasty, I almost ate my fingers. Every sip, slurp, crunch, and bite made my mouth water. But I love that “Babette’s Feast” is not simply about food, food, food. If that’s the case, we might as well let our eyes feast on Food Network. The movie also ends up as a food for the soul. The underlying religious theme, which overflows on the last scene, gives the movie an aftertaste of life appreciation and hope. This film might make you hungry, but it might also nourish your heart.
Stéphane Audran, Birgitte Federspiel, Bodil Kjer, Jarl Kulle, Jean-Philippe Lafont, and Ghita Nørby
Based on the story by