Friday, February 19, 2010

A feast for the eyes

The food here in Kosovo on the base where I live sustains us, but it can't hold a candle to the meals served on some of the other military bases (overseen by our Coalition partners) hereabouts. I've only been to one of those other places so far (and have listened, longingly, as buddies have described eating at the Greek, French, German, and Italian DFACs, just to name four).

The food at the base I visited was splendid, and came close to being gourmet.

Maybe that context explains, in part, why I hungrily watched the movie "Babette's Feast" again recently, for the first time in years.

If you've never seen it, you've missed an exquisitely beautiful and poignant cinematic masterpiece.

Moreover, it's a theological gem.

When the movie came out, reviewers focused on the fact it depicts (at one point) the creation of a sumptuous repast, worthy of the best Parisian restaurant, in a tiny hamlet on the coast of the North Sea in late-19th-Century Jutland, Denmark.

The contrast between the bleakness of that part of the world, and the coarseness of the building materials used to construct the hamlet's thatched cottages, with the feast's smooth white linen table cloth, polished silver place settings and candelabra, elegant china and glittering crystal, and gorgeous colors and textures of -- and facial responses to -- the food served to the dinner guests couldn't have been more stark. So it's no surprise the movie reviews raved about how one could almost taste each dish as it was presented.

But what caught my attention almost 20 years ago when I first saw this movie, and what stirred my soul again this time was the undeniably eucharistic subtext which reveals itself as the movie progresses.

I was going to quote the final dozen or so lines of dialogue of the movie, but if you've never seen this gem, I don't want to spoil it for you.

If you don't like foreign-language films with subtitles in English, you probably would never choose to watch this one, but I encourage you to put aside your ancient prejudices and treat yourself to an undeniably uplifting and spiritually nourishing experience.

A recurring musical theme in the movie is a hymn with the words:
Jerusalem, my heart’s true home
Your name is forever dear to me.
Your kindness is second to none
You keep us clothed and fed
Never would you give a stone
To the child who begs for bread.

Those who worship in traditions that emphasize sacramental signs and actions know that very simple, ordinary things like bread, water, wine, and oil can communicate profound and extraordinary meanings and grace.

Babette's feast does for the aged members of the tiny, devout, and austere Danish community what the Eucharist is supposed to do in the lives of the rest of us, but of course this is only my (completely unofficial) opinion.

The movie is a feast for the eyes... and for the spirit.

Now I'm off to our DFAC.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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1 comment:

Mary Coady said...

I love both the book and the movie. And I don't often say that. Usually, if I love a book, I mightily resist any persuasion to see the film adaptation (Harry Potter, for, many more than one examples). I don't want film makers tampering with my visual imagination of what the author has created on paper.

Babette's Feast was a different story (no pun intended) altogether. The movie enriched the book. Somehow those austere ludefisk, (ok that's probably Norway)), potato and not-much-else-eating people were transformed by Babette's feast.

The scene where the townsfolk show up for dinner, making an extra effort to look as unhappy and austere as possible sticks in my mind.

And the other scene that stays with me is that of Babette in the primitive kitchen, smiling enigmatically and happily at what she has prepared for her adopted compatriots--and at their enjoyment. Now that's Eucharistic!! What a great flick.

But I guess that's one of the *old* ones that folks in your neck of the woods haven't seen. Too bad. No curving bullets, but in its own way, it's incredibly sensual, dare I say even sexy.

There's so much more to the story and the flick than you and I have shared, but it's a rare beauty and a true classic. BTW, I thought it was set in the years following the French Revolution. Not? Correct my ignorance. What a perfect film for Mardi Gras, as we sidle up to Lent. Or actually, any time in Lent. Thanks for reminding me of this gem. I'll now do an archeological expedition into my bookshelves so that I can unearth and re-read BF. Thanks for the memory!

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