Author Topic: Movie of the Week: Babette's Feast (1987)  (Read 10399 times)

FroHam X

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Movie of the Week: Babette's Feast (1987)
« on: October 30, 2011, 12:30:50 AM »
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« Last Edit: October 30, 2011, 07:47:29 PM by FroHam X »
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Bondo

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Re: Movie of the Week: Babette's Feat (1987)
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2011, 01:05:18 AM »
Babette's Feast (1987)

This is the first selection for a Movie of the Week club starting up over at the Filmspotting forum. A Best Foreign Film Oscar winner from Denmark, it is a strange little work. It had a certain unnatural aspect in the dialogue/performances. It felt like it was just jamming character designs out as rough sketches. And yet, there was something kind of fascinating about the film.

At its base, this film seems to be making some sort of comparison between an austere, puritan Protestantism and a more hedonistic Catholicism. And all the main characters, by choice or by chance, are forced to forego their passion. Filippa's passion is singing, Martine and Lorens share a mutually unfulfilled romance, she favoring God and he favoring the military. Babette enters the picture, having fled violence in France, leaving behind her own passion. There is this tradeoff between passion or some grander purpose; between fidelity to God or fidelity to one's heart. One of the best little bits of acting came when Fillippa hears a bit of music after having held off and you can see this longing sadness in her eyes.

This all kind of builds toward the titular feast. This is not a film to watch hungry. I must say it does a good job showing why Scandinavia is not known for its cuisine. In this case there is an active denial, on behalf of religion, of any sense of enjoyment of food and drink. So what you see are the most basic dishes to provide nourishment. Then you compare to the French food of the feast. I'm not entirely sure how much of the food I'd actually eat, the prep scenes have me about as queasy as it has the film's characters frightful. And yet once served it has a wonderful appeal to it.

And the effect of the meal is kind of interesting. In resisting the meal initially the congregants were finally united after an earlier scene where their self-repression seemed to have been causing them to retain resentments. And after uniting against the meal, actually eating the meal seemed to finally open them up. This ultimately was Babette's big gift (and we find out just how big it was). This compares to the pious sort of benevolence that the sisters showed. It was more outward and showy in its charity. It seemed like the whole film was acting as a rebuttal against a certain proudly ascetic Christianity in favor of a more unrestrained but modestly helpful version. To the degree that it actually pits Catholicism against Protestantism, it might actually be considered vaguely offensive. Still, I was so entranced by the entire back half of the film and it serves the message well enough so I say bravo.

4/5

A few questions for discussion:
How do people feel about the heavy use of voice-over early on, though it seems to fade away eventually?

The sisters mention that because of Babette's arrival, they are now making more money than they did. It never seems to be explained how they make money, just from collections? I suppose the increase was a result of Babette's superior cooking/bartering skills?

Related to that last point, I loved the reaction of the one guy to the sister's prep while Babette was off. He'd become accustomed to her food and was like "yuck." No one likes a choosy beggar!

Oh, and I too can now have awkwardly written reviews based on the fact that they have a broader (blog) audience in mind.

PeacefulAnarchy

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Re: Movie of the Week: Babette's Feat (1987)
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2011, 01:31:01 AM »
I'm glad there's a positive review before I post my negative one. I watched this last year, so I'll copy what I wrote then and add a little from memory.
Quote
Other than some great makeup work in aging the actors there's nothing even remotely interesting here. It's slow and mundane, but that's not really the issue so much as the complete unwillingness to explore anything at all. We're presented with at least four quasi leads about whom we learn absolutely nothing but some superficial traits, in a time and place that has absolutely no bearing on anything and a plot, if you can even call it that, which is simplistic and predictable but still told in the most convoluted manner possible. About 10 minutes in I knew there was little chance I'd like this but still I kept hoping something interesting would come out of this. Maybe some good dialogue, some surprises, some good photography anything at all to save me from this tedious shit. Nothing came.
I do, and did at the time, realize this was trying to say something about asceticism vs. hedonism through the lens of Protestantism and Catholicism. However, when films explore such weighty subjects I'd like them to actually explore them. Present realistic contrasts, have genuine conflict and if they pick a side, as this film clearly does, at least argue vehemently for it. I didn't feel any of that, it was a dry morality play with assumed audience sympathy for indulgence that built to its conclusion as conflict free as possible, lest anyone even consider a dissenting opinion. I'm sure my own feelings diverging from those of the film had some effect on my reaction, but it was so uninvolving that I think I would have felt the same even if I agreed entirely with its message.
It also doesn't help that I'm not someone who finds pleasure in food and the food in the film looked disgusting to me, both in preparation and when served.

The sisters mention that because of Babette's arrival, they are now making more money than they did. It never seems to be explained how they make money, just from collections? I suppose the increase was a result of Babette's superior cooking/bartering skills?
I think they say they have more money, not necessarily are making more money. It's implied, as you suggest, that this is due to Babbette's bartering skills. Isn't it said in contrast to their reluctance to hire her because they can't afford it? Yet another example of how by loosening your restraints on yourself and allowing a little pleasure in your life can actually help you in unexpected ways. Instead of their splurging driving them to poverty they now enjoy the benefits of a cook and have more money to boot. ::)

Bondo

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Re: Movie of the Week: Babette's Feat (1987)
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2011, 01:37:34 AM »
It also doesn't help that I'm not someone who finds pleasure in food and the food in the film looked disgusting to me, both in preparation and when served.

Protestant! :P

I'll wait for some more views before I start responding substantively.

MartinTeller

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Re: Movie of the Week: Babette's Feat (1987)
« Reply #4 on: October 30, 2011, 02:16:52 AM »
I'm afraid I wasn't compelled to revisit this film for MOTW, and I remember very little about it, so I'll just have to post my mini-review from 5 years ago.  As usual with my older reviews (and most of my new ones), I'm a bit embarrassed by its brevity and lack of insight:

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Not awful, but predictable and unsatisfying.  Chocolat might be something of a rip-off of this film, but I find it much more charming and likable.  The dominant feeling I had during Babette's Feast was that it lacked authenticity.  Everything felt staged and predestined, and the period recreation didn't ring true either.  The photography was pretty, but only in a postcard sort of way.  Also, some of the dishes Babette prepares look truly vile.  At least it was refreshing to see female characters who aren't defined by their relationships to men for a change.  Rating: 6

sdedalus

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Re: Movie of the Week: Babette's Feat (1987)
« Reply #5 on: October 30, 2011, 02:19:53 AM »
I watched this, and read the book, in college (Scandinavian Film & Literature).  As I recall, the movie's OK and the book's pretty good and Isak Dinesen is the best.
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PeacefulAnarchy

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Re: Movie of the Week: Babette's Feat (1987)
« Reply #6 on: October 30, 2011, 02:42:07 AM »
At least it was refreshing to see female characters who aren't defined by their relationships to men for a change.
My memory's a little fuzzy on this point, but aren't the sisters actually defined by their lack of relationships? I seem to recall that their failed relationships, due again to that overwhelmingly oppressive protestantism, were pretty central to their characters, as was their relationship to their father.

Lobby

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Re: Movie of the Week: Babette's Feat (1987)
« Reply #7 on: October 30, 2011, 03:02:46 AM »
Oh, and I too can now have awkwardly written reviews based on the fact that they have a broader (blog) audience in mind.

Hey, what's that supposed to mean? "Awkardly"? Do you think that reviews that are posted on blogs as well are worse? If anything I think they're better. I like reviews that work on a standalone basis and that are written in such a way that you can enjoy reading them even if you haven't watched the movie. Like your one for Babette's for instance.
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verbALs

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Re: Movie of the Week: Babette's Feat (1987)
« Reply #8 on: October 30, 2011, 04:15:14 AM »
Babette's Feast


I am afraid the first half of the film failed to interest me nearly completely. It tells a tale of the two sisters who as pious Pastor's daughters in a small village live strait-laced and resultantly dull lives. The film is at pains to portray this and goes on to show the advances of two gentleman being rebuffed in turn, for puritanical reasons. The two men represent spurned love and denied joy for the two ladies. I'm on record as hating films that treat unrequited love as some sort of moral high ground; I really dislike it. Having watched Winter Light the previous day, and with that film still crashing around inside my head, the similarities of lives given over to religious vocation in a remote Scandanavian setting were jarring. Whilst the abstinence of their existence is a set-up for what comes in the second half, it fails to have a lot of impact in itself.

You have many aged characters but everybody is outdoing themselves to be austere and morally correct, and the film could have done with a charm injection. The singing nearly achieves this but the cast were just one grey beard after another to me. Ouch. The scene in the middle where the villagers are fractious towards each other was a nice touch but I didn't feel I knew who they were by that point. We see Babette grow in the community transplanting French for more and more Danish; getting a reputation for a sharp bargain, so her character gradually asserts itself.

I thought the set up to the feast had terrific comic potential- "We won't say anything about the food or drink". It pays off. I am a food person myself and the idea of not reacting effusively to good food is a perverse idea. The tiny reactions of the food-refuseniks as they succumb to majestic dinners courses and the finest wines is a joy. I would have liked to have known these people better for the emotional impact to hit home more fully. Planting a food connoisseur in the middle of the diners is a terrific device; as a guide and a reference point to show just how truly amazing the feast is.


I got traces of Bergman's Smiles Of A Summer Night, especially in the character of the military man, another film that revolves around a meal. Accusing a director of not reaching Bergman's level isn't viable comment. However, the master's uncanny, supernatural ability to define character and personality, and deliver philosophical messages of immense impact would have been perfect for this film. We need to be close to these people so that every tiny facial gesture is magnified. The director seems to want to keep a distance. Perhaps going in "close" is such a Bergman trope that directors avoid it for fear of comparison. They should be as brave. Watching people loosen up because of food and drink, I could do that by going down the pub. Shouting "I love you!" after a bottle of wine, that's an easy thing to do.


I was left unfulfilled and distanced when I should have felt at least charmed by its warmth. I liked the singing. However the score is Big Night 1 Babette's Feast 0.
« Last Edit: October 30, 2011, 04:35:45 AM by verbALs »
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MartinTeller

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Re: Movie of the Week: Babette's Feat (1987)
« Reply #9 on: October 30, 2011, 04:20:19 AM »
At least it was refreshing to see female characters who aren't defined by their relationships to men for a change.
My memory's a little fuzzy on this point, but aren't the sisters actually defined by their lack of relationships? I seem to recall that their failed relationships, due again to that overwhelmingly oppressive protestantism, were pretty central to their characters, as was their relationship to their father.

Oh heck, I don't remember at all.  I'm going to be pretty useless in this discussion.