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Film / Babette's Feast

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"Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me the chance to do my very best."

Babette's Feast is a 1987 Danish film directed by Gabriel Axel, set in a remote village of Jutland during the late 19th century. Two spinster sisters are enjoying their humble, secluded life amongst the parishioners of their late father's church, when suddenly one night a French woman named Babette (Stéphane Audran) arrives on their doorstep, having fled from the war and bloody revolution in her home country. With no surviving relatives to shelter her, an old friend of the sisters has sent this mysterious woman to their home for sanctuary.

Despite their meager offerings, the sisters open their home to Babette as a servant who can help them in maintaining the property and aiding in charity work. Fourteen years pass before the outside world intrudes on the three women again: Babette has won a lottery that a friend maintained in France. The sisters fear that this new opportunity will take their friend and helpful servant away from them, but Babette surprises them with an offer: a chance to cook a real French dinner for the late pastor's birthday. Though the sisters agree, suspicion and fear grows amongst the small congregation as to whether the upcoming extravagance conflicts with their ascetic beliefs.

The film was adapted from a story by Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen, and like the author's more famous adapted work, won an Academy Award (as Denmark's entry for Best Foreign Language Film).

This work includes the following tropes:

  • Age Cut: A flashback begins by cutting from the sisters as old ladies to them in the same position as beautiful young women.
  • Aside Glance: The French singer who visits the village looks straight into the camera while praising the singing talent of one of the sisters.
  • Cassandra Truth: Because the rest of the dinner party has sworn not to react or comment on the food (for fear this will lead to moral corruption as they are an ascetic sect), the General's attempts to explain the depth and rarity of the meal are treated as this. His looks of Dull Surprise in response are among the funniest moments in the film.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Martine has nightmares at merely the thought of Babette's meal, mostly because she's beginning to conflate Babette's foreign foods and excess with pagan witchcraft.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: After trying the quail, the General remarks how it reminds him of an exclusive dish cooked by an expert female cook at a fine restaurant. Babette turns out to have been that cook.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Babette remarks that the only thing that ties her to France is her lottery ticket. It wins her 10,000 francs.
  • Cultural Translation: The original Blixen story was set in Northern Norway. The movie has shifted the location to the west coast of Jutland. Genius Bonus for the hymn being sung in the church when the French singer arrives: It is a known Norwegian hymn, written by a North Norwegian priest (Petter Dass).
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Having wine and turtle soup at a meal! The horror! Well, it does take place in the 19th century.
  • Do You Want to Haggle?: After living in the village for some time, Babette is shown poking at the general goods owner for selling bad bacon, and arguing with the local fisherman.
    [standing on the beach, going through the catch of the day]
    Babette: ...Not fresh.
    Fisherman: Not fresh? They were swimming two minutes ago!
  • Dueling Scar: The general has a small, horizontal one by his right eye.
  • Fancy Dinner: Babette tries to bring a lot of the features of a fancy French dinner to the small village she now resides in. The residents are not used to this. Awkward If Fulfilling Meal Ensues.
  • Food Porn: Don't watch on an empty stomach.
  • Foreign Queasine: At first, the food looks like this. That poor sea turtle...
  • Hidden Depths: Filippa apparently had a grand talent for singing, enough to impress an already famous operatic performer into giving her free instruction, with hopes to make her a star.
    • The entire film leads up to revealing Babette's depths as a renowned chef in her home country.
  • I Choose to Stay: After winning 10,000 francs, Babette has the chance to return to France again. Rather, she ends up spending it all on the feast so she can stay with the sisters.
  • Irony: At the meal, General Löwenhielm explains that, when he once won a riding competition in Paris, Gen. Galliffet took him to dinner with some other officers at one of the best restaurants in Paris, the Café Anglais, where they dined on Caille en Sarcophage, a special dish that only the female chef de cuisine at the Anglais prepared, and that it was the same dish that they were dining on now. He also tells of how Gen. Galliffet loved this dish, and the food at the Anglais in general, so much so that the chef was "the only woman in Paris he would shed his blood for." Of course, what we learned very near the beginning of the film was that Babette had had to flee France because otherwise she would be killed, as her husband and son had been killed in the suppression of the Paris Commune, by Gen. Galliffet.
    • Bilingual Bonus: One of the best and most elegant restaurants in Paris is the Café Anglais, which is French for English Café. Could also be a subtle Take That, Maurice!.
  • Jabba Table Manners: Played with to a degree. The parishioners are not used to fancy dinners or complex, multi-course meals. Whenever the General does something, like pick up his soup by the bowl handles and drink, or use a spoon to eat the main course's sauce, the other guests mimic him.
    • Played straight when one man tries to bite into a fig like an apple and it comes apart in his hands. The General splays another fig out on his plate and scoops out the meat with his utensils.
  • Loophole Abuse: As the guests start to enjoy the dinner more, they get around their self-imposed rule of not speaking about the food at all by not directly referring to that specific food. For instance, when the General compliments the grapes of the feast, one man cites Number 13:24, where the Israelities bring back clusters of grapes from Canaan.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: The General started off as a very undisciplined, wild-living young officer. He strives to be this after encountering Martina, choosing an ambitious career over a quiet life with her. He later confronts himself if it was worth it.
  • Old Maid: Both of the sisters gave up on potential romances to stay in their village and live a much simpler life than what they would have had abroad.
  • Running Gag: One of the more senile church members responds to everything with "Hallelujah."
  • Supreme Chef: It is said Babette's cooking is akin to a religious experience.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Filippa's vocal instructor had both a platonic and not-so-platonic zeal for her, and while she did not necessarily reject him, she did reject a career as a singer.