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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Bon Appétit

Babette's Feast (1987) on IMDb

Plot Overview

A grandmotherly narrator (Ghita Nørby) introduces us to a nineteenth century faltering fellowship in Frederikshavn, west coast of the Jutland peninsula, Denmark. It was founded by a Lutheran preacher & prophet (Pouel Kern). After his parting the community is held together by his remaining daughters: elder sister Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and younger Filippa (Bodil Kjer). They all subsist on meager fare consisting of salt cod and peasant bread gruel. The sisters' opportunities to marry and leave for better pastures are long past.

One night in Sept., 1871, a refugee from the Paris Commune riots shows up at their door, one Babette Hersant (Stéphane Audran). She's lost her husband and son in the violence and now lacks any means of support. In desperation she becomes their house­keeper/maid/cook in exchange for room and board. Her only remaining tie to France is a yearly lottery ticked she gets.

During the next fourteen years—in which she doesn't age a bit—she uses her native skill at bargaining to stretch the house­hold budget and her cooking skill to improve their diet—not hard to do. Then she wins the lottery. Before leaving she persuades them to let her cook a celebratory feast for their founder's 100th birthday. When exotic victuals start arriving, the simple folk contrive to eat sans savour or comment so as not to offend either God or cook, but a last minute addition to their company is conversant in haute cuisine from the courts of France. He shows them how to dig in.


Many fine papers have been penned on the spiritual lessons of this movie. I offer this review from the perspective of one who'd spent some years living in Christian communes. The Danish community is Protestant, saved by grace. One of its members comforted another saying, “Christ loved us and cleansed us from our sins with his blood.” Their day to day speech is peppered with scriptural parlance from all over the map, as happened where I was from with the King James Version (KJV).

Writer Roland Bainton describes a sermon of Martin Luther: “On January 10th, 1529, the lesson was the wedding at Cana of Galilee. This passage, said Luther, is written in honor of marriage. There are three estates: marriage, virginity, and widowhood. They are all good. None is to be despised” (275). “Babette's Feast” boasts the older married couple, the virgin daughters, and the widow Babette. Let's include with them the feast itself and find some way to lump them all together. Since they involve in one way of another dabbling with the world—or the temptation to—I'll hang them from the peg of, (1Cor. 3:21-22) “For all things are yours; Whether … the world, … or things present, or things to come; all are your's.” To what extent is the world theirs to enjoy?

The feast was worldly (Parisian) fare. It was familiar to Gen. Lorens Löwenhielm (Jarl Kulle) at the royal court, i.e. “things present,” but it was some­thing altogether new for the humble villagers, i.e. “things to come.”

For the religiously inclined community to partake, they had to steel themselves for the spiritual benefit to the neglect of the worldly pleasure. This lesson can be taken from Paul's instruction to the widow, (1Cor. 7:39) “if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” Operating “only in the Lord” is not just the province of the widow when remarrying, but—at least in this community—was done in all things by every­one every day. Eating Babette's feast “only in the Lord” for them meant partaking stoically without savoring any pleasure from or even commenting on it … good luck!

As for the widow herself, she chose to sink her potential dowry in the feast and remain single, (1Cor. 7:40) “But she is happier if she so abide, after my judg­ment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.”

Paul's instruction to the married woman in the schismatic environment the community had found itself in would have been, (1Cor. 7:10-11) “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” In the atmosphere of peaceful reconciliation after Babette's feast, she did indeed kiss her husband in reconciliation.

That leaves the two virgin daughters. A flashback shows their earlier lives when they'd attracted interest from young men in the congregation, but they never encouraged them. Instead, each responded to men of the world, young Martine (Vibeke Hastrup) to soldier boy Lorens with his difficult disposition, and young Filippa (Hanne Stensgard) to French opera singer Achille Papin (Jean Philippe Lafont) whose Catholicism probably counted him as worldly in father's eyes (“Vous êtes Papiste?”) Here to proceed in the Lord entailed, (John 12:26) “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be.” In this particular case, (Luke 15:4) “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilder­ness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” They left unacknowledged the interest of young men of the congregation and instead reciprocated interest with worldly men to influence them for the better (1Cor. 7:16) or to bear godly fruit (1Cor. 7:14).

In the first case the young calvary man rejected her and went his way, according to (1Cor. 7:15) “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.” In the second case the woman herself decided marriage was not for her, according to her church's reckoning of, “earthly love and marriage of scant worth” and Paul's sympathies, (1Cor. 7:7) “For I would that all men were even as I myself,” i.e. single.

Also to be considered is the similarity of their founding father's ministry to that of the apostle Paul, which can be read from 2Cor. 5 through 2Cor. 6., addressing the congregation to open them­selves up, as indeed their preacher was in traveling to inaccessible places, (2Cor. 6:11-13) “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged.” He wants his spiritual children to open their hearts to each other as an honor to their founder-father on his 100th birth­day, which they did in the after­math of the feast. The concern in the next verse, (2Cor. 6:14) “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: ...” was echoed by the community's qualms about the feast being a “witches' sabbath”, the partaking of which putting them in the position of being “unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” As it turned out they weren't but were more in the state of (2Cor. 7:1), “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

Production Values

This film, “Babette's Feast” (1987) was directed by Gabriel Axel who also wrote its screen­play adapted from a short story, Babette's Feast, by Karen Blixen under the nom de plume Isak Dinesen. It stars Stéphane Audran, Bodil Kjer, and Birgitte Federspiel. The acting is first rate, especially from Stéphane Audran as Babette and Bodil Kjer & Birgitte Federspiel as the two sisters.

The movie is rated G. It portrays a quiet setting (“J'aime le silence”) punctuated by a Mozart duet. The only thing artificial about the whole movie seemed to be the straight­forward animus towards the end; I would have expected intimates to show some subtlety. The hymns were moving. The setting was chosen to convey the simple country life.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This movie is a combination of spiritual and artistic in a gentle mixture that can move one to tears. It's universal enough to over­come any objections to foreign films. I saw it with English subtitles. In my case it brought back memories. Perhaps I'm partial but it gets my highest marks.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: No action, no adventure. Suitability for children: Suitable for general audiences. Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the Authorized King James Version, pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nash­ville: Abingdon Press, 1955. Print.