Back in the day, before “Food Porn” was a term that scored 8 million hits on Google, Danish director Gabriel Axel served up the ultimate cinematic “treat” in a faithful adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s Babette’s Feast. The title alone is a spoiler, yet the film’s food porn is really just the cherry on top of a powerful story about community, humility, healing, and forgiveness. Set in an authoritarian Protestant village in rural Denmark circa early 1900s, the film follows two unmarried sisters and their housekeeper, a French refugee named Babette (an unforgettable Stéphane Audran). The mundane day-to-day events of the village are put into a spin after Babette wins the lottery and decides to put her winnings towards a feast for her fellow townsfolk. Unfortunately, the villagers are the scary kind of Christian that might judge you for enjoying a stick of Doublemint gum and are too busy obstinately clinging to their petty grudges towards each other to welcome anything to their tables than cold antipathy. Enter then the most transformative substances of all: Food.
When it comes to feminist role models in film, Babette is aces on all accounts. Nowadays, it seems like Hollywood frequently attempts to communicate to young girls that “empowered” women look like Black Widow, Katniss Everdeen, Ilsa Faust, or Furiosa—AKA women who kick a lot of ass without talking too much about men or their past traumas. I love these “badass” women, but sometimes I feel it creates a temptation for some audience members or budding feminists to overlook strong female characters that fall outside of this image, or even dismiss pro-feminist characters that initially appear to operate within a traditional “caregiver from the kitchen” archetype. Babette is completely unlike these sweaty, high-kicking characters; in fact, she spends most of the film cooking, cleaning, or shopping for food, which some might consider a gender-norm nightmare. However, Babette is the epitome of female empowerment through tremendous emotional strength, to a startling and almost philosophical degree. Her resiliency makes Babette’s Feast one female-focused film where I don’t want to joke that the protagonist is a woman “with balls”–Babette has ovaries, and she’s fucking tough as nails.
If the plot sounds simple, it’s because it is; however, the end piece is magnificent. Much like some of the greatest culinary dishes in the world, it sometimes takes only a few ingredients to make something delicious. Ultimately, this Academy Award-winning “food porn” largely succeeds because it is intended as food for the soul.
Watch it When: You are awake enough to watch a slow-paced Danish film and not too hungry to drool throughout the entire titular event.
While You Watch: What happens to someone’s sense of empowerment when they carry out an act of sacrifice?