This Danish film (1987) was directed by Gabriel Axel and filmed in the windswept coast of western Jutland. It is a cinematic masterpiece depicting life in the late decades of the nineteenth century. It leaves the viewer with not only a sense of memento mori but a feeling of complete awe of human perseverance. The call to duty in such a barren land is seemingly devoid of any earthly pleasures. The setting was purposely bleak to create the mood for the story, where two ageing sisters Philippa (Bodil Kjer) and Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) take in a stranger by the name of Babette (Stéphane Audran) who arrives carrying only a note from Philippa's former suitor.
Babette, a French woman, came to the sisters to escape persecution from her country during a time of political turmoil that saw citizens fleeing and seeking employment outside their country. The sisters agreed that Babette would live with and work for them in exchange for nominal pay. What follows is a sumptuous banquet of royal proportions given to the sisters and the community by Babette as gratitude for their provision of shelter and a sense of belonging. This “feast” was by no means an ordinary one. The viewer witnesses a normally quietly spoken and reserved religious community open up and enjoy a foreign world presented to them in the guise of a wonderful celebration of food.
This film appeals on so many levels. My passion for the film is in the unintended social experiment where devout religious people loosen up with the help of flowing wine. It manifestly presents itself as a sensual appreciation for exotic food. Ultimately, barriers are broken down, tearing away the community's veil of austerity by leaving them with an acquired taste for la dolce vita.
As I came from humble beginnings, this film resonates with my outlook on life and as a result I value both the small and the big things in life. The significance of this film has left me with a renewed gratitude for my family and community as well as a compassion for strangers in need of assistance. Something I like to feast on each day.
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