#396- Babette’s Feast

Quick recap: A woman who has escaped the civil war in France has come to live with two deeply religious sisters. To show her appreciation for them, she spends her lottery winnings on a feast for them and their weird cult. 

Fun(?) fact: Alton Brown, of Alton Brown fame, says this is the ‘greatest food movie of all time.’

But would he know what to do with this massive sea turtle?

Thoughts and observations: I tried everything in my power to delay watching this film, mostly out of fear that I might die of blandness if I did. And I am here to tell you, now that I am on the other side, that this movie is in fact bland. But bland in the most comforting sense of the word. Bland, like chicken noodle soup and saltines when you are sick. Maybe not what you wanted or planned for, but what your needed.

The story is as exactly as it appears to be- two religious sisters have no skeletons in the closet and no enemies and are just absolutely lovely people. They spend their time bringing food to the sick, knitting and counting their meager savings. The story starts with a flashback to the women when they were young and wooed by a couple of men. The first, a wayward general, falls in love but is no match for Jesus. The second is a famous Swedish opera singer who gives one the girls music lessons and despite his best efforts, is ultimately rejected. And so it goes that the two girls and their religious father and his sect live happily in the small Danish village. It isn’t until years and years later that Babette arrives, sent from France after her son and husband were killed in a civil war. I suspected this would upend things greatly, but it did no such thing. She fit in well, learning to cook traditional Danish dishes and the village and churchgoers all loved her.

When Babette wins the lottery, she tells the aging sisters she wants to use some of the money to prepare a feast in celebration for their father’s 100th birthday. The girls attempt to dissuade their housekeeper but she insists. And thus begins the second part of the film as she buys the ingredients and scares everyone to death with her mysterious cooking. It was hilarious to me that the women freaked out when they saw the wine and champagne, jumping to the conclusion that Babette must actually be a witch. They form a plan to eat what is given to them at the feast but to make no comment so that their souls will stay intact. The rest of the movie revolves around watching Babette make each dish and then cut to the congregation doing everything in their power not to lick each plate clean. It is so clear that they love each bite but have sworn to do or say nothing. I can’t describe how much joy it brought me to see the savoring and sipping and the absolute pleasure on everyone’s faces. The general, not having gotten the message about talking, makes sure to compliment every course and talk about how exquisite it all is. Having survived the feast unscathed, everyone realizes how insane they were to not trust Babette and literally skip out of the house, dancing and singing from happiness.

When the women run to Babette to offer their praises and apologize for ignoring her, she informs them that she used to be the head chef at a fancy restaurant and has spent all of her money on the feast. It is such a lovely conversation between the women and made me feel like I was watching something genuine. This movie may be bland, but it’s like a warm hug we could all use.

Watchability score: 5/5 You get a sweet story with mouthwatering food. A perfect combination!

Up next: Guys and Dolls

#394- Au Revoir les Enfants

Quick recap: Two boys from completely different backgrounds form a strong bond during World War II.

Au-Revoir-Les-Enfants-1

Julien and Jean

Fun (?) fact: When Quentin Tarantino worked at a video rental place he couldn’t pronounce the name of this movie and so called it ‘that reservoir film’.

Thoughts and observations:

Knowing only that this was a French film about a boys boarding school, I already had some expectations of what I might encounter:

  • underage smoking
  • light to moderate horseplay
  • bedtime shenanigans
  • homoerotic implications

And this movie had all of that but also it was an emotional gut punch. I don’t use that term often but there’s just no other way to describe what I watched. As a matter of fact, after the credits were finished and I had mostly stopped sobbing, I grabbed my 10 year old and made him watch it with me again because it is just so important.

What makes this movie so unique is that the audience gets lulled into a false sense of security. On the surface, this is a story about a boy who is an outsider (Julien) who forms a strong bond with the new kid (Jean). It’s been done before, of course, but what’s different is that Jean is not just a new kid- he’s Jewish and being hidden away in this Catholic school during the height of World War II. Aside from a few clues- he doesn’t pray with the others, he doesn’t eat pork and his real last name is Klippenstein- the matter isn’t discussed in detail. For the most part, these boys are all surviving the war in their own way and how they treat Jean is similar to how they might treat any newcomer who happens to be very bright and introverted. It really made me think everything would be ok and the plan to hide the boys would work.

But of course, it doesn’t. The Gestapo raids the school and because of an unintentional glance towards his friend, Jean is outed by Julien as Jewish. The last scene of the boys standing in the cold and saying goodbye to their principal as he and the Jewish boys are taken away is one that will live with me for a long time. According to the director, who says this film is mostly autobiographical, all 4 were sent to a concentration camp and later murdered.

Watchability score: 5/5. Essential viewing. We also watched Jojo Rabbit afterwards, which turned out to be a suitable companion piece.

Up next: Sweet Sweetback’s badasssss song

 

 

 

#391- Gallipoli

Quick recap: The tale of two Australians who go off to fight in World War 1…..and it does not go well.

And stars a hot and sweaty Mel Gibson

Fun (?) fact: ANZAC Day was originally observed to honor the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died in the Gallipoli campaign but is now a day to remember all those who died during war.

physically hot, not attractively hot. He was probably an anti-semitic jerk even back then

Thoughts and observations: 

As has become the standard PSA on this blog, war is hell. Gallipoli is no exception of course, so let’s see just how hellish the movie gets:

  • takes place during World War 1, one of the most hellish wars to date (1 POINT)
  • The characters are fictional but I got attached nonetheless and didn’t want anyone to die (1/2 POINT)
  • One of those characters was played by Mel Gibson (-5 POINTS)
  • The actual battle scene only takes place the last 20 minutes or so of the film (-1 POINT)
  • There are SO MANY dead bodies and the death is realistic (2 POINTS)
  • The English bungle everything and have Australian blood on their hands (1 POINT)
  • The training scenes take place in Cairo, against the backdrop of the pyramids ( beautiful setting but worth 0 POINTS)
  • The final scene is of the main character dying a most honorable death (3 POINTS)

So, based on the point system I created just this very second, Galipoli is certified ‘pretty freaking hellish’.

I was surprised by how much time was spent on getting to know the characters and learning about their love of sprinting. I kept wondering when it would be important to the battle and it definitely paid off in the final few scenes. And by saving the gory stuff for the very end, I was lured into a false sense of security that maybe this would be a successful battle and everyone would be ok. Like I said, pretty freaking hellish.

Watchability score: 4/5. Also some choice nudity if that is your thing

Up next: Journey to Italy

 

 

#386- Neco z Alenky (Alice)

Quick recap: The classic story of Alice in Wonderland, if told by David Lynch and David Cronenberg. Probably not for children.

If this creeps you out, just wait!

Fun (?) fact: Unlike traditional stop motion films, Alice did not use any miniature sets for its effects.

Imagine a full size this!

Thoughts and observations:

I had a nightmare after watching this movie and it’s really no wonder I’m not more traumatized considering:

  • The white rabbit is full of sawdust and enjoys eating what leaks out of him
  • The movie takes place in a run down house where even the leaves piled up inside are somehow menacing
  • Whatever this is:

  • Alice turning into a life-size porcelain doll which she has to escape from

I could easily come up with 10 more examples but I think you get the point. This version of Alice in Wonderland is no fairytale. Director Jan Svankmajer envisioned something along the lines of an ‘amoral dream’ and he certainly was successful. I tend to have very vivid dreams and watching Alice’s journey trigged something familiar inside of me. I don’t know what that says about my brain but I can completely relate to this version. I especially loved the end when Alice woke up and saw all the parts of her dream surrounding her: the playing cards, the tarts and the stones. And then in the final scene she looks over and sees that the taxidermied white rabbit did actually bust out of his cage. She grabs a pair of scissors and says ‘off with his head’. I LOVE that the Alice in this movie is not a sweet girl but instead mischievous and sometimes just outright violent. I found myself both rooting for her and also enjoying when she got her comeuppance.

Watchability score: 4/5, if you can handle it

Up next: Chimes at Midnight