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Babette's Feast


  1. Directed by: Gabriel Axel
  2. Produced by: Bo Christensen
  3. Written by: Karen Blixen
    Gabriel Axel
  4. Music by: Per Nørgaard
  5. Cinematography by: Henning Kristiansen
  6. Editing by: Finn Henriksen
  7. Release Date: 1987
  8. Running Time: 103
  9. Language: Danish, French, Swedish

Clips

  1. A&F Discussion Thread
  2. IMDb.com
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Netflix

“Babette can cook.” It’s a seemingly simple sentence offered as an offhand suggestion in a letter to Danish sisters Martine and Filippa (Birgitte Federspiel and Bodil Kjer) as one way an unknown refugee from France could help them should they take her in. And yet, the understatement and simplicity of that line perfectly foreshadows the greatness of the gift that Babette’s titular feast will be.

The first time we see Babette (Stephane Audran), it’s not the image of her seeking shelter in the pouring rain, but preparing a simple meal while the two sisters with whom she lives host their weekly prayer service. When the small religious community begins singing, “Jerusalem, my heart’s true home,” there is a cut to Babette in the kitchen. Yet again, it is a subtle detail foreshadowing where Babette’s feast will lead those who partake of it.

Similar to those miniscule details, which escape the notice of most of the characters, the feast itself is almost not noticed for what it truly is either. Only one character knows and appreciates the value of the gift Babette is giving to the community which saved her from one of the French civil wars. The rest of the community is apprehensive of her foreign feast at best and downright convinced it will be diabolical at worst.

If a feast prepared for twelve people, who don’t fully understand what the feast is, and yet it transforms them as they consume it sounds familiar to a staple of Christian theology, it’s because in Gabriel Axel’s film adaptation of Karen Blixen’s short story, Babette’s feast is a metaphor for the Eucharist. That naturally makes Babette herself a Christ figure.

Many films on the Arts & Faith top 100 list contain Christ figures—Ordet, Andrei Rublev, The Seventh Seal, and more. Almost all of those films involve a Christ figure who suffers in some way for the salvation of themselves or others. What makes Babette a unique Christ figure is not that she doesn’t suffer (losing one’s husband and son in a civil war certainly is suffering), but her similarity to Christ is in the joy and grace she brings others by offering a gift of her talents, which costs her everything she has, but brings peace to a community and to herself.

It's the portrayal of that peace and joy that makes this film a masterpiece. Every shot of the feast and its preparation are mouthwatering, the Jutland coast is beautiful, each interaction among the small community is filmed with a familiar intimacy. The ways that Babette’s presence challenges and enriches that familiarity shows the spiritual growth that any great art should induce. In a community that had become complacent in their faith and daily routines, it was suspicious, discomforting art from an outsider that challenged them to grow. Again, the growth is subtle, but the subtlety makes the transformation all the more remarkable.

What’s even more remarkable is the one guest to realize the true value of Babette’s feast. None of the pious Puritans who know her appreciate her cooking beyond it being “a very nice meal.” But the worldly General Löwenhielm (Jarl Kulle) who has lived his life with doubt and uncertainty that he chose the right path is able to recognize the extraordinary quality of the feast. Once again, great art can work its inspiration anywhere and often not where our preconceived notions tell us it should be.

In Blixen’s short story, Babette explains to Martine and Filippa that she had to cook the feast for her own sake, as a great artist. This is less explicit in the film, in keeping with its style, but Babette’s final lines are the same in both versions: “Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: ‘Give me leave to do my utmost.’” That utmost is a partaking in the divine act of creation, to quote John Paul II’s letter to artists, and whether the recipients of that art realize it or not, it incites a change. It incites a change in the entire Jutland community, and as the general proclaims at the end of the meal, “Mercy and truth have met together. Righteousness and bliss have kissed.”

 

--Evan Cogswell (2020), blogger at Catholic Cinephile

 


  1. Directed by: Gabriel Axel
  2. Produced by: Bo Christensen
  3. Written by: Karen Blixen
    Gabriel Axel
  4. Music by: Per Nørgaard
  5. Cinematography by: Henning Kristiansen
  6. Editing by: Finn Henriksen
  7. Release Date: 1987
  8. Running Time: 103
  9. Language: Danish, French, Swedish

Clips

  1. A&F Discussion Thread
  2. IMDb.com
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Netflix

“Babette can cook.” It’s a seemingly simple sentence offered as an offhand suggestion in a letter to Danish sisters Martine and Filippa (Birgitte Federspiel and Bodil Kjer) as one way an unknown refugee from France could help them should they take her in. And yet, the understatement and simplicity of that line perfectly foreshadows the greatness of the gift that Babette’s titular feast will be.

The first time we see Babette (Stephane Audran), it’s not the image of her seeking shelter in the pouring rain, but preparing a simple meal while the two sisters with whom she lives host their weekly prayer service. When the small religious community begins singing, “Jerusalem, my heart’s true home,” there is a cut to Babette in the kitchen. Yet again, it is a subtle detail foreshadowing where Babette’s feast will lead those who partake of it.

Similar to those miniscule details, which escape the notice of most of the characters, the feast itself is almost not noticed for what it truly is either. Only one character knows and appreciates the value of the gift Babette is giving to the community which saved her from one of the French civil wars. The rest of the community is apprehensive of her foreign feast at best and downright convinced it will be diabolical at worst.

If a feast prepared for twelve people, who don’t fully understand what the feast is, and yet it transforms them as they consume it sounds familiar to a staple of Christian theology, it’s because in Gabriel Axel’s film adaptation of Karen Blixen’s short story, Babette’s feast is a metaphor for the Eucharist. That naturally makes Babette herself a Christ figure.

Many films on the Arts & Faith top 100 list contain Christ figures—Ordet, Andrei Rublev, The Seventh Seal, and more. Almost all of those films involve a Christ figure who suffers in some way for the salvation of themselves or others. What makes Babette a unique Christ figure is not that she doesn’t suffer (losing one’s husband and son in a civil war certainly is suffering), but her similarity to Christ is in the joy and grace she brings others by offering a gift of her talents, which costs her everything she has, but brings peace to a community and to herself.

It's the portrayal of that peace and joy that makes this film a masterpiece. Every shot of the feast and its preparation are mouthwatering, the Jutland coast is beautiful, each interaction among the small community is filmed with a familiar intimacy. The ways that Babette’s presence challenges and enriches that familiarity shows the spiritual growth that any great art should induce. In a community that had become complacent in their faith and daily routines, it was suspicious, discomforting art from an outsider that challenged them to grow. Again, the growth is subtle, but the subtlety makes the transformation all the more remarkable.

What’s even more remarkable is the one guest to realize the true value of Babette’s feast. None of the pious Puritans who know her appreciate her cooking beyond it being “a very nice meal.” But the worldly General Löwenhielm (Jarl Kulle) who has lived his life with doubt and uncertainty that he chose the right path is able to recognize the extraordinary quality of the feast. Once again, great art can work its inspiration anywhere and often not where our preconceived notions tell us it should be.

In Blixen’s short story, Babette explains to Martine and Filippa that she had to cook the feast for her own sake, as a great artist. This is less explicit in the film, in keeping with its style, but Babette’s final lines are the same in both versions: “Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: ‘Give me leave to do my utmost.’” That utmost is a partaking in the divine act of creation, to quote John Paul II’s letter to artists, and whether the recipients of that art realize it or not, it incites a change. It incites a change in the entire Jutland community, and as the general proclaims at the end of the meal, “Mercy and truth have met together. Righteousness and bliss have kissed.”

 

--Evan Cogswell (2020), blogger at Catholic Cinephile

 

“Babette can cook.” It’s a seemingly simple sentence offered as an offhand suggestion in a letter to Danish sisters Martine and Filippa (Birgitte Federspiel and Bodil Kjer) as one way an unknown refugee from France could help them should they take her in. And yet, the understatement and simplicity of that line perfectly foreshadows the greatness of the gift that Babette’s titular feast will be.

The first time we see Babette (Stephane Audran), it’s not the image of her seeking shelter in the pouring rain, but preparing a simple meal while the two sisters with whom she lives host their weekly prayer service. When the small religious community begins singing, “Jerusalem, my heart’s true home,” there is a cut to Babette in the kitchen. Yet again, it is a subtle detail foreshadowing where Babette’s feast will lead those who partake of it.

Similar to those miniscule details, which escape the notice of most of the characters, the feast itself is almost not noticed for what it truly is either. Only one character knows and appreciates the value of the gift Babette is giving to the community which saved her from one of the French civil wars. The rest of the community is apprehensive of her foreign feast at best and downright convinced it will be diabolical at worst.

If a feast prepared for twelve people, who don’t fully understand what the feast is, and yet it transforms them as they consume it sounds familiar to a staple of Christian theology, it’s because in Gabriel Axel’s film adaptation of Karen Blixen’s short story, Babette’s feast is a metaphor for the Eucharist. That naturally makes Babette herself a Christ figure.

Many films on the Arts & Faith top 100 list contain Christ figures—Ordet, Andrei Rublev, The Seventh Seal, and more. Almost all of those films involve a Christ figure who suffers in some way for the salvation of themselves or others. What makes Babette a unique Christ figure is not that she doesn’t suffer (losing one’s husband and son in a civil war certainly is suffering), but her similarity to Christ is in the joy and grace she brings others by offering a gift of her talents, which costs her everything she has, but brings peace to a community and to herself.

It's the portrayal of that peace and joy that makes this film a masterpiece. Every shot of the feast and its preparation are mouthwatering, the Jutland coast is beautiful, each interaction among the small community is filmed with a familiar intimacy. The ways that Babette’s presence challenges and enriches that familiarity shows the spiritual growth that any great art should induce. In a community that had become complacent in their faith and daily routines, it was suspicious, discomforting art from an outsider that challenged them to grow. Again, the growth is subtle, but the subtlety makes the transformation all the more remarkable.

What’s even more remarkable is the one guest to realize the true value of Babette’s feast. None of the pious Puritans who know her appreciate her cooking beyond it being “a very nice meal.” But the worldly General Löwenhielm (Jarl Kulle) who has lived his life with doubt and uncertainty that he chose the right path is able to recognize the extraordinary quality of the feast. Once again, great art can work its inspiration anywhere and often not where our preconceived notions tell us it should be.

In Blixen’s short story, Babette explains to Martine and Filippa that she had to cook the feast for her own sake, as a great artist. This is less explicit in the film, in keeping with its style, but Babette’s final lines are the same in both versions: “Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: ‘Give me leave to do my utmost.’” That utmost is a partaking in the divine act of creation, to quote John Paul II’s letter to artists, and whether the recipients of that art realize it or not, it incites a change. It incites a change in the entire Jutland community, and as the general proclaims at the end of the meal, “Mercy and truth have met together. Righteousness and bliss have kissed.”

 

--Evan Cogswell (2020), blogger at Catholic Cinephile

 


  1. Directed by: Gabriel Axel
  2. Produced by: Bo Christensen
  3. Written by: Karen Blixen
    Gabriel Axel
  4. Music by: Per Nørgaard
  5. Cinematography by: Henning Kristiansen
  6. Editing by: Finn Henriksen
  7. Release Date: 1987
  8. Running Time: 103
  9. Language: Danish, French, Swedish

Clips

  1. A&F Discussion Thread
  2. IMDb.com
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Netflix
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