Babette's Feast is a beautiful movie about community, love, displacement and finding home, generosity and selflessness.
The elderly and pious Christian sisters Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kjer) live in a small village on the remote western coast of Jutland in 19th-century Denmark. Their father was a pastor who founded his own Christian sect. With their father now dead, and the austere sect drawing no new converts, the aging sisters preside over a dwindling congregation of white-haired believers.
The story flashes back 49 years, showing the sisters in their youth. The beautiful girls have many suitors, but their father rejects them all, and indeed derides marriage. Each daughter is courted by an impassioned suitor visiting Jutland – Martine by a charming young Swedish cavalry officer, Lorens Löwenhielm, and Philippa by a star baritone, Achille Papin, from the Paris opera, on hiatus to the silence of the coast. Both sisters decide to stay with their father and spurn any life away from Jutland.
Thirty five years later, Babette Hersant (Stéphane Audran) appears at their door. She carries only a letter from Papin, explaining that she is a refugee from counter-revolutionary bloodshed in Paris, and recommending her as a housekeeper. The sisters cannot afford take Babette in, but she offers to works for free. Babette serves as their cook for the next 14 years, producing bland meals typical for the abstemious nature of the congregation. Her only link to her former life is a lottery ticket that a friend in Paris renews for her every year. One day, she wins the lottery of 10,000 francs. Instead of using the money to return to Paris and her lost lifestyle, she decides to spend it preparing a delicious dinner for the sisters and their small congregation on the occasion of the founding pastor's hundredth birthday. More than just a feast, the meal is an outpouring of Babette's appreciation, an act of self-sacrifice; Babette tells no one that she is spending her entire winnings on the meal.
The menu responsible for their pleasure features "Blini Demidoff au Caviar" (buckwheat cakes with caviar and sour cream); "Potage à la Tortue" (turtle soup); "Caille en Sarcophage avec Sauce Perigourdine" (quail in puff pastry shell with foie gras and truffle sauce); "La Salad" featuring Belgian endive and walnuts in a vinaigrette; and "Les Fromages" featuring Blue Cheese, papaya, figs, grapes and pineapple. The grand finale dessert is "Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glacée" (rum sponge cake with figs and glacéed fruits). Numerous rare wines, including Clos de Vougeot, along with various champagnes and spirits, complete the menu. Babette's purchase of the finest china, flatware, crystal and linens with which to set the table ensures that the luxurious food and drink is served in a style worthy of Babette, who is none other than the famous former Chef of "Café Anglais". Babette's previous occupation has been unknown to the sisters until she confides in them after the meal.
Join us on Wednesday 14 May for the next Eumundi World Cinema event.