The film, Babette’s Feast was a dichotomy of opposites. Those being, good and evil, rich and the poor, the sacred and the profane, of want and satisfaction what is right and what is wrong, and in the end it speaks of hope and redemption.
Babette, a once famous chef at the Café Englais comes to this seaside village having been sent there with nothing but the clothes on her back, from her riches she ends up poor like those she was sent to serve. The two sisters have a decision to make, they can either take Babette in or send her away, and with that decision, they must ponder that they will have to give from what meagre means they have to support and sustain Babette.
They decide together to take Babette in, and a relationship forms, with three women coming together to make ends meet, Babette moves from being a poor servant to becoming a woman of great richness, and in the beginning I don’t mean material or monetary richness, she cares for the sisters, she learns that her gift of cooking can make its presence known in this simple colony.
There is an expressed tension and trouble amongst the people who live in this religious colony of believers, who have next to nothing, but they have their faith, which at times is the only visible glue that holds this squabbling colony together.
There are more problems than solutions it seems. But through the vehicle of communion, sharing, music and a meal, the issues that seem to separate and confound, seem to fade away when the group is seated together focused on one goal, that of praising God or eating a meal at table.
I think that Babette looks forward to leaving her simple life to return to her rich past and the café where she worked and was famous. Alas, this does not come to pass, yet she receives a letter informing her of a great windfall of money from a lottery win.
Once again, she has a choice to make, she can either take the money and run, or she can make good use of her lottery win, to enhance the lives of the people and community she is now part of. She chooses the latter and sets out to cook a feast of her own choosing with her own money for the good and care of her community. This movie, for me was a vision of “right choices” and the importance of community unity.
This community of meagre means, of fish and gruel becomes a land of plenty with a feast provided by Babette. Babette becomes the teacher, a figure of salvation to those who are seated at her table. She becomes a point of memory and reconnection for some, and a provider for others. There is the speculation by the group that she is a temptress comes to force her sinful ways upon them at this meal, and the group sets out to “not pay attention” to their tongues, to remember the Lord and not be taken in by sinful food or drink.
Course by course Babette has planned out a gastronomic fantasy of food, texture and taste. Brought together are the many members of this colony and the general and his mother. Babette spends every penny she made in the lottery win to bring this feast to her friends.
It is a very selfless act, one of compassion and understanding, and for Babette it is her salvation. For she gives of herself without abandon to the community, who had seen her in bad light and as a temptation? In the beginning we see that she was a burden to her keepers, who had to portion more of what they had to feed another, and now, Babette has the means to repay that kindness ten fold.
She turns a simple kitchen into that of a Master Chef. She lives her past in her present in providing this feast for her guests. She imports food and drink to rival that of a feast fit for a king or queen. It is a remarkable vision to see this dinner set out for her guests, it is fantastic and almost orgasmic. Watching this feast being enjoyed by so many at table, you get caught up in the moments as they pass, and you partake in the amazement of taste and texture.
A transformation occurs through the means of this meal for the people at the table. The mood changes, the people are transformed and for a brief couple of hours, a well decorated general is taken back to another time in his life, when he recounts the story of a Master Chef who was a woman who once cooked the dinner that he was presently eating. Witnessing a spiritual transformation is salvific for the viewer, because it gives us a chance to partake in that saving feast.
In the end the people are grateful and thank their hostess, as the sisters wonder if Babette will return to Paris, and I think we are all surprised when she decides to stay amongst the colony, broke as they are, having spent her every penny on sharing that feast with them and their special guests. Everyone in the movie realize what are really important, life and the living of that life, and those you share that life with.
Not all the great food in the world and truly all the money in the world will not make one happy if one has lost their soul to material things of this world. Babette’s feast was a fantastic movie and has a wonderful moral message and spiritual truth. It speaks of transformation of lives and souls, namely that of Babette and the two sisters. Not to mention the other members of the religious colony.