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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Babette's Feast. Gabriel Axel (Director. MGM (1987)

A wonderful film about faith, love, art, memory and food. On a desolate coast of Denmark a small village includes the aging congregation of a sect founded by a pastor whose two daughters carry on his mission. A Frenchwoman arrives on their doorstep, fleeing chaos and possible death in Paris and Babette becomes their servant. Babette's sole link to Paris is a lottery ticket and when she wins 10,000 francs on the lottery the daughter's permission to cook a meal for them on the centenary of their father's birth. This meal becomes an opportunity for memory, love, faith and art to be celebrated, confirmed and cherished.
This film radiates a belief in the possibility of joy and love without ever being false or sentimental. The grim life of the villagers is not glossed over, the petty rivalries of the aging congregation are aired without reducing anyone to caricature. The flashbacks to the younger years of the two daughters where they choose to stay with their father instead of leaving with men who loved them are wonderfully done and do not diminish the daughters.
The meal that is at the heart of the film is a wonder, the exquisite food that slowly mellows the congregation into companionship, that gives the chance for one of the daughter's suitors to return and make peace with her and memory is never forced. The simple pleasure of eating, the extraordinary artistry of cooking and creating the feast are allowed to emerge naturally and effectively.The cast are wonderful, Stephane Audran as Babette and Bodil Kjer and Brigitte Federspiel as the sisters Filippa and Martine are flawless. They give quiet roles depth and dignity and allow the rest of the cast to be more forward and overtly expressive. This film is a remarkable achievement, as much a feast for the viewer as it is for the cast.

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