Saturday, November 26, 2016

Babette's Feast: The gastronomic version of civil discourse

Babette’s Feast is one of the all-time great movies about bringing people together. Vox.com picks it as the flick to watch on this Thanksgiving weekend, Babette’s Feast is a joyous story about a good meal healing social divisions. Here’s a short preview. (You can watch the trailer linked at the vox.com story.)

Babette’s Feast, based on a story by Isak Dinesen, is about a sect of austere, severe religious people living on a remote Denmark coast in the 19th century. They are led by the elderly daughters of the sect’s founder, they view pleasures with suspicion, as a distraction from God, and they eat only bland food.

But their lives are upended when Babette (Stéphane Audran) shows up at the sisters’ home, bearing a letter from an old friend and seeking refuge from violence in her native Paris. The whole story is foggy to them, and they’re suspicious of her. But she offers to work for free, and stays with them for 14 years, gaining their trust.

One day, she wins the lottery (I recognize this sounds outlandish, but stick with me), and instead of using the money to go back home at last, she uses it to prepare a lavish feast in honor of the sect’s founder.

Watching the uptight elders slowly relax away from their arguments and disapprovals into the beauty and conviviality of a meal made with love is pure pleasure. The feast Babette prepares is practically an act of worship — made by someone the group still considers beyond their bonds of acceptability, but who has patiently worked to show them love — and it works. Bridges are built. Bonds are forged. And a really good meal is shared.

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