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Babette's Feast Summary

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Author: David O'Connor
Babette's Feast Summary (directed by Gabriel Axel)
  1. 1. Coast of Jutland. Drying fish on rack. Two aging sisters, Martina and Philippa, named after the great Reformation leaders Martin Luther and Philipp Melancton. They bring soup to the poor. Their father formed a small congregation the sisters keep together. They sing a hymn:
    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.
    Babette, a Frenchwoman, lives with them.
  2. In flashback, young sisters with father go to church. Young men go to church to catch a glimpse of their beauty, but father rejects all suitors: "In the minister's flock, earthly love and marriage were considered to be scant worth, and merely empty illusion."
  3. Young (Swedish?) officer Lorens Lowenhielm sent to live with aunt near Jutland to reform dissolute habits. Meets Martina pouring pure white milk. "At this very moment, he had a mighty vision of a higher and purer life without creditor's letters or parental lectures and with a gentle angel at his side." He comes to sect's meetings. Minister: "Mercy and truth are met together, my dear brothers and sisters. Righteousness and peace shall kiss one another." Lorens gags at food, finally departs, kisses Martina's hand, and says, "I am going away forever and I shall never, never see you again. For I have learned here that life is hard and cruel, and that in this world there are things that are … impossible."
  4. Lorens dedicates himself to career and prestige, escaping "pious melancholics who can't even afford salt for their soup." Later, he marries at court, pretending piety, while Philippa asks Martina if she remembers Lorens. She does.
  5. Achille Papin, renowned French singer, visits at grocer's to find silence and the majesty of the coast. Falls into melancholy about old age and end of his career. Enters church service (crossing himself), hears Philippa's extraordinary voice. Offers to train her voice: "She will sing like an angel. That's important when one sings God's praises." Minister identifies him as a "Papist," but allows lessons.
  6. At lesson, tells Philippa she will be such a star she will "distract the rich and comfort the poor." Next lesson, they sing a love duet. Philippa:
    I tremble, yet I listen. I'm fearful of my joy.
    Desire, love and doubting are battling in my heart.
    My soul weakens already. I would, yet I would not.
    I am afraid of my own joy.
  7. As Papin celebrates at grocer's, Philippa decides to discontinue lessons. Minister chuckles when he delivers the message. Sisters knit while hearing Papin play violin.
  8. Thirty-five years later, Babette arrives in storm. Introductory letter from Papin: "She herself barely escaped the blood-stained hands of General Galliffet. … For 35 years, Miss Philippa, I have deplored the fate that kept your voice from filling the Grand Opera House in Paris. When I think of you honored, respected, and surrounded by a warm and happy swarm of children, and when I think of myself —a lonely, graying old man —, forgotten by those who once applauded and adored me, I feel it is you who chose the better path in life. What is fame? The grave awaits us all. And yet, my beautiful Soprano of the Snows, as I write this I feel the grave is not the end. In Paradise I shall hear your voice again. There you will forever be the great artist God intended you to be. Oh, how you will enchant the angels! — Babette knows how to cook." The sisters agree to let her stay.
  9. The sisters demonstrate cooking skills: "Let it soak." Babette soon makes improvements.
  10. Fourteen years later, little flock bickers. Sisters announce celebration for father's 100th birthday.
  11. Letter arrives from France; Babette has won lottery. Sisters: "The Lord gave, the Lord took away." Babette decides to ask sisters if she can pay for birthday dinner, a French dinner. It is the first thing she has ever asked for, and they cannot refuse. She asks for a week to prepare.
  12. Sisters, on their own, bring unappetizing food to the poor.
  13. Babette returns with goods from France. Philippa: "Martina, I am rather worried about this." Martina: "I am not too happy about this French dinner, either."
  14. Martina dreams of hellfire, turtle, and Babette. Sisters warn flock, apologize, fear a "witches' sabbath." Congregation steels themselves: "We shall not say a word about either food or drink." — "Hallelujah." — "For the love of our little sisters, we promise, no matter what happens, not to say a single word about the food or the drinks. — It will be as if we never had the sense of taste." They sing (in a whisper) "Jerusalem, my heart's true home."
  15. Lorens Lowenhielm, now a general, is visiting his aunt, and will attend the dinner. In his youth, he lived in Paris.
  16. Babette prepares as sisters look on with concern and horror.
  17. General talks to his young self: "Vanity, all is vanity. I have found everything you dreamed of and satisfied your ambition, but to what purpose? Tonight, we two shall settle our score. You must prove to me that the choice I made was the right one."
  18. Guests arrive as Babette prepares. They sing "Jerusalem, my heart's true home." General arrives with aunt, kisses Martina's hand. His driver enters back door to kitchen.
  19. Dinner is served. "Remember, we have lost our sense of taste." They say grace with a prayer of the minister's: "May the bread nourish my body, may my body do my soul's bidding, may my soul rise up to serve God eternally." "Like the wedding at Cana, the food is of no importance."
  20. Amontillado, turtle soup, champagne, lemonade, blinis Demidoff.
  21. The flock starts to reminisce about the minister.
  22. Quail in sarcophagus: the general tells of the chef of the Café Anglais, quoting General Galliffet: "The ability to transform a dinner into a kind of love affair, a love affair that made no distinction between bodily appetite and spiritual appetite." The woman next to him says, "Man shall not merely refrain from but also reject, any thought of food and drink. Only then can he eat and drink in the proper spirit." They recall the minister's words: "The only things we can take with us from this earthly life are those we have given away."
  23. The general rises to speak: "Mercy and truth have met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another. Man, in his weakness and short-sightedness, believes he must make choices in this life. He trembles at the risks he takes. We do know fear. But, no! Our choice is of no importance. There comes a time when your eyes are opened. And we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence, and receive it with gratitude. Mercy imposes no conditions. And, lo! Everything we have chosen has been granted to us. And everything we rejected — has also been granted. Yes, we even get back what we rejected. For mercy and truth are met together. And righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another."
  24. Over fruit and wine, the bickering members of the congregation reconcile. General asks for more wine, and receives entire bottle. They retire to the sitting room while Babette relaxes in the kitchen. Philippa sings of the setting of the world.
  25. The general and his aunt leave. He tells Martina, "I have been with you every day of my life. Tell me you know that! … You must also know that I shall be with you every day that is granted to me from now on. Every evening I shall sit down to dine with you — not with my body, which is of no importance — but with my soul. Because this evening I have learned, my dear, that in this beautiful world of ours, all things are possible."
  26. The other guests leave, and as Babette drinks coffee, they sing a song around the well: "Let us use this time to try | to serve the Lord with heart and mind | so that our true home we shall find." "Hallelujah."
  27. The sisters thank Babette. She tells them she is not leaving, and has spent all her money. Babette quotes Achille Papin: "Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist, 'Give me the chance to do my very best.' " Philippa responds: "But this is not the end, Babette. I'm certain it is not. In Paradise, you will be the great artist that God meant you to be. Ah, how you will delight the angels!"
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