One meal can change your life: A review of "Babette's Feast"

By Brianna Osborne
The Sooner Catholic

Title: Babette's Feast
Year: 1987
Director: Gabriel Axel

In our last issue, we included a portion of an interview with Pope Francis from the book, "El Jesuita." This interview revealed that his favorite movie was 'Babette's Feast' "because it shows the transformation of a group of people who took denial too far and didn't know what happiness was." "The sumptuous meal helps free them from their fear of love," the pope said." Here is our own review of "Babette's Feast."

In a small Danish village, no one goes hungry. The nearby coast provides plenty of fish, the grocer keeps his shop stocked and Christians feed the poor and sick.


Unfortunately, there is a famine in the hearts of the people. "Babette's Feast" contrasts famine with feast, loneliness with love, resentment with mercy and even Puritanism with Catholicism. The film comments on how we are called to live after having a transforming experience - in this case, one life-changing meal.

Martina and Philippa - named after Martin Luther and his friend Philip - live with their father, founder of a local puritan church. He teaches his congregation that all earthly pleasure is an illusion. Out of duty to this faith, both sisters reject the love of two young men. Though these relationships are portrayed somewhat sentimentally, they are balanced by the dry humor surrounding the reactions of the townspeople to Babette's feast.

After the preacher's death, the small group of believers struggles with his teachings. Prayer meetings are interrupted by petty jealousies, old grudges brought into the open and, saddest of all, the terrible uncertainty that old sins will not be forgiven. The people are hungry, whether for love, forgiveness or merely something better than tasteless fish stew.

It's time for a feast. The sisters' servant, Babette, insists on cooking a real French dinner for the preacher's 100th birthday. A funny scene ensues in which Babette orders a fantastic array of supplies: chirruping baby quails, giant blocks of ice, crates of wine and finally, a giant hissing turtle.

Wanting to reject the earthly pleasures offered in this "witch's sabbath," each villager promises that they will not mention a word about the food, agreeing "it will be as if we never had the sense of taste." They do not know how prophetic these words are, for tasting Babette's feast is a wholly new experience.

The villagers sit down to the feast with a surprise guest. Ignorant of their vow to be silent, he raves about the Veuve Clicquot, the Cailles en Sarcophage and the succulent fruit. The filmmakers ensured that viewers would enjoy the feast too, letting them see crystal goblets glisten and fires blaze, and letting them hear forks scrape and mouths slurp and suck.

The delicious meal fills their bellies and warms their hearts. By the time coffee is served, each person realizes that love is triumphant and, as the guest says, that "mercy is infinite." Sharing this meal, the villagers come to care for one another again. Seeing this, Catholics can reflect on another life-changing meal - the Last Supper. Experienced every Sunday, this meal is not French gourmet, but the supper of the Lamb. After receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, after coming together at table with all the faithful, Catholics have the opportunity to forgive and love their neighbors even more heartily than those who experienced Babette's feast.

Though the film doesn't reveal much about Babette herself, it does show her dedication to and love for the art of cooking. In a gentle imitation of Christ's sacrifice, Babette gives away all she has to feed the spiritually starving villagers. As Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis has already demonstrated this same gift of self - and we hear he's also a pretty good cook.

This film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish. This film is appropriate for all ages. "Babette's Feast" is available on DVD at the archdiocesan library at the Catholic Pastoral Center. More information is available at


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