from ryan...i heard this beautiful story on NPR.
And while there have been a few other magical cinematic meals, none has ever been more magical than the 19th-century banquet lovingly prepared and exquisitely served in the Danish film Babette's Feast.
Pleasure and palates: When Babette's Feast premiered 20 years ago, French restaurants in select cities prepared the meal for critics. But though the food was delicious, the feast was more powerful on screen, where redemption has a seat at the table.Kobal Collection
It's a French cook's extravagant "thank you" to a tiny church congregation that has sheltered her as a refugee in frigid Denmark for years. The problem is, the elderly congregation believes in self-denial — believes that pleasure must be reserved for the hereafter. So while they agree to eat the meal so as not to hurt Babette's feelings, they vow to each other that they will not enjoy the meal, or even talk about it.
This is much to the astonishment of a visitor, who can't believe what he's tasting — genuine turtle soup, great wine, and all around him, the congregation is silent. From the embarrassment in their expressions it's clear the others, despite their best efforts, are enjoying the meal, but no one in the congregation will admit it.
I was actually served Babette's Feast 20 years ago, when the film premiered. The studio arranged with French restaurants in a few major cities to prepare the meal for critics. Nothing mock about the turtle soup, quail in puff pastry with fois gras and truffle sauce. Astonishing French cheeses. Film criticism is its own reward, of course, but the rewards that day were a little more savory than usual.
Still, the feast did not top the movie. In the French restaurant where I ate it, the food was delicious, but was still just a meal. In Babette's Feast, it's more, all tied up in the spiritual: food as a gift, specifically Eucharistic in nature, for a religious community that has denied itself pleasure for decades.
And it is transformative: Old loves are rekindled, long-simmering feuds are forgotten, redemption has a seat at the table.
Fabulous. And — whatever the virtues of self-denial on-screen — probably not something you want to see on an empty stomach.