Babbette’s Feast: a Movie Review
The first half was boring as dust and amateurish as a live Nativity scene. Puritans piss me off and scare me. I am intolerant of intolerance. This was cunningly deceptive. The director and scriptwriter had the guts to risk driving the audience out of the theater in order to heighten the effect of the transition which followed.
From our modern perspective the world they showed starting out was as bleak and deceptive as it was boring by our standards. These puritans lived in world as harsh and austere as their landscape. They came across as dull survivors clinging together in a life raft in a cold and stormy sea, whose only hope of solace and rescue came from an obstinate belief in the next world. They reinforced their faith through endless litany of beliefs they did not dare question for through that shone the only light at the end of their dark and dreary tunnel.
Having lived with them in her role as servant, Babbette knew them well. She was not young when she entered their world begging shelter from another world that sought her death. She remained grateful for the asylum they had granted her. She never forgot the world she left behind and knew as well she could not possibly convey any concept of its pleasures, although it is sure they were aware of some of its dangers and firmly held a pious, self righteous condemnation of its godless temptations.
When she won the lottery she wanted to share with them her gift. After 14 years she still felt she owed them a debt she had never been able to express, let alone repay. Gifted as a culinary artist, she now had the opportunity to show what she could not tell. She knew what they knew and felt, long embedded in their world as she was, and she also knew the best of her lost world never to be regained or replaced. She loved them.
The movie shifted upon her winning of the lottery, as if what had gone before had been filmed in black and white by an inept director with an amateur cast of locals. It was as if this had been to this point a crude documentary, a visual religious tract, clumsily scripted with the real inhabitants of an actual village. Gradually, the starkness of the black and white segued into color, as some movies in the early days of color cinematography actually did. To the viewer this shifting into the first stages of this blending of the palette is slow to suggest epiphany because it is so unexpected. The preconceptions of the diners in their resolute agreement to refuse pleasure as being evil seems an absolute barrier.
And so the second half more than made up for the risk taking that went into the first. The gradual transitions in those present at the table were as subtle as they were touching- and credible. How did those awkward actors become professionals in such a short time?
The table setting was radiant, the feast so opulent I could almost taste it. My eyes triggered salivation. The fellowship became genuine at that table, a community of brotherhood and love. All words took on an added dimension of meaning, even the hymns from this point lost their emptiness and filled with touching meaning. “We are but little children, dear, fretting ‘cause our bedtime’s near.” This they accepted that without commotion, but their lives had now irrevocably changed. The worldly General was the catalyst and the role model at the table, the scene that Babbette had slyly set. His speech was as magnificent as it was simple and, to me, true; a keeper. His message was that of love, lovingly expressed and all were touched. His words found their way into their hearts and minds to commingle with their steadfast beliefs without offense or contradiction. Everyone who left that feast was a changed person, for the better, without compromising their basic goodness and integrity. They had loosened their corsets without offending themselves or each other. The liquor didn’t hurt.
The end was a bit O. Henry-ish. Actually more than a little, in more ways than one. Babbette, who had been the “best” chef in Paris, had accommodated herself through gratitude to 14-plus years of servitude to two old ladies who did not dine at the same table with her through social custom, and because of her were able to stretch their money enough to sock some away, now committed herself by canceling her ticket to the larger world into prolonging her lifestyle in this relationship until their deaths. And then, what of her? Will the old ladies now invite her to dine with them, or will she remain consigned to the servant’s quarters? Will they bequeath her their “estate”? Well, they did tell her that artists are never poor, and they invited her to heaven. (This is borrowed→ That’s like telling your son that his dog has died, but he can keep him anyway.)
Sometimes, even while you’re crying your eyes out reality sneaks up behind you and bites you in the ass.
®Copyright 2012 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.