Feast> (Directed by Gabriel
Axel, Eng/Chinese subtitles, 105 mins, Denmark)
by Fr. Peter Malone, MSC
Two sisters, Martine and Philippa, live in
a remote Jutland village during the latter half of the 19th century.
Their father had founded a pietistic and puritanical Lutheran
sect and had ruled over it with some severity.
his death, the sisters maintained the sect. They had a small number
of followers who were initially devoted but, over the years, they
began to fall out with one another.
they were young, both sisters wished to marry. Martine was in
love with a cavalry officer, Lorens Lowenheilm. Philippa, who
had a beautiful voice, loved Achille Papin, an opera singer. Their
father had sternly forbidden the marriages.
a recommendation from Papin, Babette Hersant, a cook from the
Parisian Cafe Anglais, comes to live with them a refugee from
the French political turmoil of 1871. She serves the sisters faithfully
and they come to depend on her.
she wins the lottery, Babette offers to make them a dinner, a
banquet. They and the congregation are reluctant but, in order
not to offend Babette, they agree to attend but decide that they
will not taste or relish any of the food or drink. Lorens Lowenheilm
and his mother are also to attend.
feast is magnificent. The guests assemble and their resistanceis
slowly overcome. They enjoy the feast very much, so much so that
they confess how they have offended and cheated one another over
the years. They go out of the house and dance in a circle of life.
are amazed that Babette has spent all her money - but Babette
replies that she is an artist and this kind of cooking and hospitality
has been her life.
Babette's Feast is based on a short story by Isak Dinesen (Karen
Blixen whom Meryl Streep portrayed in Out of Africa). Originally
set in Norway, it has been transferred by writer-director, Gabriel
Axel, back to Blixen's Denmark, to a remote village on the Jutland
coast where the Lutheran tradition is strict and severe. This
might bring back memories to cinema buffs of renowned Danish director,
Carl Theodor Dreyer, and his movies like Day of Wrath and Ordet.
Audran, star of so many French movies, especially those of Claude
Chabrol, brings beauty and conviction to the role of the exiled
cook, Babette. The rest of the cast, especially the two sisters,
bring to life this religious community, showing its strengths
and its weaknesses and taking the audience into a different cultural
and religious milieu and into a transforming and transcendent
of the feast itself lasts for half an hour. There is a rich build
up with the preparation of the dishes, the serving of the drinks
and the gradual overcoming of inhibitions on the part of the guests.
The audience appreciates this so much that the visuals of the
food and drink and the drama mean that the audience vicariously
enjoys the feast – and shares in the ultimate experiences of
Feast won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 1987.
AS A CHRIST-FIGURE
Significant characters can be seen to resemble the Jesus of the
Gospels. They can be called Christ-figures.
should be interpreted through biblical criteria. The Christ-figures
can be seen as redeemers, saviours and liberators.
is a long tradition in the Jewish scriptures of redeemers, those
who suffer and die on behalf of others. The most impressive and
profound example of this tradition is the prophetic servant of
the Second Isaiah, ...he was pierced through for our faults, crushed
for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and
through his wounds we are healed. (53:5) (9)
passion narratives rely on familiarity with the servant songs
of Second Isaiah, often using detail from the songs as `short-hand'
for describing Jesus' suffering. In Isaiah 50:6, the servant is
struck on the face, spat on, his beard pulled and his back beaten.
In this same way, Jesus' torture is described in the Gospels (Mark
15: 16-20). The First Letter of Peter, 2:21-4, quotes Isaiah 53
In fact, the author uses the language of Christ-figure to exhort
readers to be Christ-figures themselves: after speaking of suffering
(in a passage about slaves being punished justly and unjustly),
he states that ‘Christ suffered for you and left an example for
you to follow the way he took’ (v.21).
tradition from the Jewish scriptures is that of saviours, those
who transform others' lives or lead them into a new life. They
range from Abraham, the patriarch migrating with his clan, to
Moses leading the descendants of Abraham into the promised land.
The climax is the vision in Daniel 7, where the Son of Man, representing
the faithful people of Israel, comes on the clouds of heaven to
receive the reward for those who had remained faithful to God's
promises to Abraham, those who were faithful to the covenant between
God and his people. This, of course, is Jesus' reference to Caiphas
when Caiphas asks Jesus who he really is (Mt. 26:63-6). Jesus
is the Son of Man who, after suffering like the servant, will
be glorified by God and lead his faithful into the new, heavenly,
risen life. Saviours empower others to a rising to new life.
men and women (and other creatures of fiction like Hobbits) are
‘analogies’ of Jesus, images of Jesus, who can assist us in
our attempts to depth some understanding of him.
can be seen as a Christ-figure. A good woman, she has been exiled
from her own country and been received by kind people and employed
as a servant. In her service of the sisters, she emerges as a
sviour-figure. In creating her feast, and spending all her money,
like the widow in the Gospels, giving everything she had, she
empowers the women and their guests to embrace a fuller quality
of life, to forgive one another, to be reconciled and to be open
to a world of grace.
BETWEEN BABETTE'S FEAST AND LUKE'S GOSPEL OF MARTHA AND MARY
is a perfect Martha figure who gives unstintingly in preparing
her feast. The two sisters have been like Mary, listening to God.
Now they must share in Babett'es feast and learn what joy, both
human and divine, is like.
does not give any menu items of Martha's meal for Jesus and his
disciples. The point, of course, is not so much the menu but the
film, the two sisters willingly take Babette into their home.
Although she is a servant in the household, she is a respected
member, even confidante, of the sisters. She is foreign, has different
customs (does not share the sisters' puritanical attitude to life
- or to food) but she is still welcome. The final song of the
film and the sisters' words to Babette about angels rejoicing
because of her artistry highlight the beauty of the friendship.
and Mary are hospitable and welcome Jesus and his disciples into
their home. Martha has the touch of the work ethic about her and
judges people accordingly. Mary, on the other hand, knows the
value of listening and contemplation.
has a better perspective on providing a meal than Martha does.
Martha frets, is preoccupied and is not hesitant to rouse on Jesus,
let alone Mary. Babette is the complete giver who delights in
cooking and serving and in the joy that the diners experience.
She gives her time, her skills, her artistry - and all her money
- to make the beautiful feast.
of such a generous feast for the diners is that they mellow. The
shared food binds them together and they listen to one another.
And the grace of the feast is that they can listen to God, contemplate
the loving God rather than their fierce God. They confess, ask
pardon of each other and reconciliation. In the Gospel, contemplation
is the gift that Mary possesses and that Jesus advises Martha
to acquire. When we listen to God, we know how we are called to
go into action.
SCENES AND THEMES
* The sisters' father and his control of his congregation. His
harsh Christianity, moral rectitude and puritanical approach to
pleasure and joy. The sisters' devotion to their father, their
singing, their hospitality to the congregation. Filippa and her
delight in singing with Achille Papin, Martine and her love for
the cavalry officer. The influence of their father and their rejecting
arrival and their kind hospitality. Her place in the household,
her work, her shopping, the response of the people in the village.
Babette winning the lottery, her decision to make the feast, buying
the ingredients and their preparation. The menu, the cooking,
the boy assisting, each course and her attention to detail. The
achievement of the feast and her satisfaction in giving and in
accomplishing the feast.
The congregation and their unwillingness to enjoy the feast, their
transformation, their sharing with one another, confessing, pardoning,
Lorens and Martine, the reconciliation and the dancing circle of