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Babette's Feast  

Sometimes food can create some unusual situations. Take my own relationship with it, for instance. Do you think that just because I`m a fan of different types of films, including foreign ones, that I`m also a culinary expert, with discriminating and cultured taste? You would be wrong, for I'd more likely be found at Wendy's than at some ritzy dinner. And my homelife can be such a pain in the neck due to my stubbornly narrow taste, for while the rest of the family actually have some diverse inclinations, I simply must eat the same old crap every day.

The restaurant where I work experiences people even stranger. The establishment is essentially a tourist spot, and a number of visitors will become noticeably upset if one of the salads is missing from the buffet, as if they flew all the way from their home to here just to eat the pickled herring. A far more common sight is lineups of people waiting and waiting for a fresh supply of mussels, pathetically oblivious to the fact they eat these faster than they can be cooked, instead of sitting down at their seat to eat the already full plates they carry with them, for of course their vacation wouldn`t be complete without nibbling at some dead sea creature, and, by God, they`d wait all day if they have to.

But no culinary experience could be as both amusing and perceptive as the meal served during the last half-hour of Babette's Feast (1987). This isn`t just a dinner, it`s a revelation; a revelation of the sort of individuals the characters on screen really are. Like a magnifying glass, the dinner reveals the age-old tensions and habits of its guests in a way unmatched in the rest of the film. And this is allowed to happen because of the intervention of an odd and worldly woman from France in the lives of two old Danish spinsters. Those old women were, in their younger days, daughters of the local priest in the village, an area of Denmark which seems completely isolated from the rest of the world. These young women are so entrenched in the Christian lifestyle that they don`t even look for, much less be aware of, secular love, much to the dismay of the entranced village men, and two men in particular who walk into their lives.

The first is a member of the Danish army, who, as a sort of discipline for his unruly behaviour, is sent off to his aunt's place, which turns out to be near this village. One day he rides on horseback to the village, and meets up with one daughter, who he is entranced by. He is so willing to be with her that he begins attending the get-togethers in the father`s home, which consists mainly of prayer and a very simple meal. Eventually, he is dismayed by the woman`s lack of attention, and with that, proceeds to take his chosen career much more seriously, to a fault.

The second is a French entertainer who also finds his way to this desolate place, for relaxation from the noise of Paris. He walks into the church, and, while listening to the choir, is amazed at the second daughter's voice. He is so impressed that he convinces her father to let the woman train her voice under his discipline. Vocal progress is made, but, alas, romantic progress is not.

The real story doesn`t begin until here, however, for when the women grow old, strange things occur. One day, a woman shows up at the door, with a letter from the French singer, saying this is a relative who lost everything during the civil war which had recently occurred in that country. He hopes their kindness will allow for the presence of this woman, Babette, who can cook and take care of the house for them in their old age. Babette is definitely the right woman for the job, for she turns out to be such a culinary expert that everyone in the village is impressed by her cooking. And she also helps the old women out financially, for her insistence on paying top price only for the best quality ensures that, since not everything is of best quality, the women will find themselves with more money than they've had in a while.

I cannot say much more without ruining the fun of the meal, or why it happens, for this is where all these little storylines come to a head. Let's just say it's one of those things you must see to believe. It's a meal filled with laughs, twists and, of course, exotic foods. And Babette's Feast is a movie filled with cute little moments that deserve to be savoured by those looking for something different and unusual. Now excuse me a moment while I eat that roast beef sandwich in the fridge.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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