Film Friday: Babette’s Feast (1987)

(Image from IMDB)

Starting a new series of posts, we take a look at this lovely Danish film that adapts the short story by Karen Blixen.

There are some times that things come to you unexpectedly, but do so when you need them the most. This was my case with Babette’s Gæstebud, known in English as Babette’s Feast.

Directed by Gabriel Axel in 1987, and based on a short story by Danish author Karen Blixen (yes, she that was played by Meryl Streep in Out of Africa), it is about two sisters, Philippa and Martine, who live in a small village in Jutland (Denmark) in the 19th Century.

They are both the daughters of a pastor, who in their youth had to say no to their suitors: Lowens Löwenheim, a Swedish Cavalry Officer that courts Martine, and Achille Papin, a star baritone on a relaxing trip to the countryside that gives singing classes to Philippa.

It’s thanks to Monsieur Papin that, many years later, Philippa and Martine meet Babette Hersant, a cook from Paris that is a refugee from the Commune. They tell her they cannot afford to have a cook, but she offers to work for them for free. They accept and thus, she ends up working for and living with them the next 14 years, improving their lives and those of their congregation through her cooking.

The only link Babette herself still has with France is a lottery ticket that a friend renews for her every year. As it turns out, she wins it, and 10,000 francs with it. What she wants to do with it is to offer a really fancy French dinner for the sisters and the congregation, to celebrate the 100th birthday of Martine and Philippa’s father.

And I’m not going to say anything more about the plot to not spoil it (though really, the movie’s 32 years old, I’m not sure if it can be considered spoilers anymore) because the movie is an absolute delight. Just as In The Bleak Midwinter is my Christmas movie, Babette’s Feast is my comfort movie. Not only is it gorgeously filmed, with some frames that look like paintings, but it is also just the most adorable and uplifting movie ever.

Perhaps I should have to add an IMHO there, since I know it’s all a matter of opinion, but really, since I saw it for the first time, a year (and a bit more) ago, it has stayed with me, and, little by little, not only has it made its way to being probably my favourite movie, but it has reminded me of the joys of what I chose to be my career and of life in general, in a moment that everything bad seemed to outweigh the good.

After all, as Babette says to Martine and Philippa: An artist is never poor.

While I think that I have a long way ahead of me before I can fancy myself an actual artist like Babette is, that’s the thing. We are not just richer for our bank accounts (though let’s be honest, that also helps in other ways), but for what we give to the world, and if what we give to the world comes from the goodness in our hearts and the knowledge acquired, then that’s when we will be the richest.


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