Babette’s Feast

Commentary by Gordon Nary



Babette's Feast (Babettes gæstebud) is a classic 1987 Danish film written and directed by Gabriel Axel. that won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film is based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, the author of Out of Africa. In this exquisitely haunting film, food is a metaphor for overcoming anti-religious prejudice with acts of kindness and a reminder that the needs of the flesh often reflect the needs of the spirit. An interesting note about this film-it is one of Pope Francis three favorite films (the other two are La Strada and Rome, Open City).


Two elderly single twin sisters, Martine and Philippa, live in a remote seaside village on Denmark's Jutland peninsula and carry on their deceased father's conservative Lutheran ministry to a dwindling elderly population. A French Catholic, Babette Hersan, whose husband and son have been killed during the Paris Commune, arrives from France to work for the sisters as a cook and housekeeper and soon becomes and indispensable member of the household, even though she is Catholic which is anathema to the conservative Lutheran sect. After several years of service, Babette wins 10,000 francs in the French lottery and decides to use all the money for the preparation of a magnificent banquet in honor of the minister's 100th birthday.


Soon the ingredients for the feast arrive by boat and include a cage of live quail, a calf's head, a live sea turtle, several cases of wines, champagne and liquor, as well as the candelabra and silverware, elegant china and table linens for the table We watch Babette prepare the spectacular feast consisting of turtle soup with Madeira, blinis Demidoff with caviar, quails stuffed with foie gras and truffles in puff-pastry cases, a salad, cheeses, tropical fruits, and a baba au rhum, all accompanied by champagne and fine wines.


At first, the austere sisters are reluctant to participate in the banquet which they fear will turn into a "witches' Sabbath", but eventually relent and along with the guests enjoy Babette's sumptuous feast which renews many friendships, and restores lost love. It is then revealed that Babette once was the head chef of the famous Café Anglais in Paris (the restaurant that is also mentioned in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. in Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery, and in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook).