#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

 

 

 

#393- Shaft

Quick recap: Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks? Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother, man? Who’s the cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about?

I’m talking about SHAFT

Fun (?) fact: Isaac Hayes originally auditioned for the role of Shaft but lost out to Richard Roundtree. He stayed on  to write the theme song, eventually winning an Oscar. I can dig it.

Thoughts and observations:

Alright, baby, let’s get to it! I L-O-V-E-D every single thing about this movie. Now it could be that I haven’t been around humans in months or maybe it’s the weird nostalgia I get when 1970s New York City is featured in film, but everything Shaft did was exciting. The action scenes were wonderful but I enjoyed myself just as much watching Shaft do such things as: get his shoes shined, sit in a coffee shop and my favorite-sit on the edge of the desk. How can someone be so cool so effortlessly? I never really understood what his job was or his connection to all the bad guys but it didn’t matter. As long as you were cool, he was cool, baby.

Race is of course a huge part of the film and one that I feel so uncomfortable talking about. All I can write about is my own experience and my own opinions so that’s what I will try and do. It was so frustrating to hear Shaft echo the sentiments about not trusting the police when we are having the same exact conversations 50 years later. Maybe the N-word isn’t used as regularly as it was in 1971…….but that’s about it. The concept of a Black hero is one that still resonates today. It’s so much easier to imagine one guy kicking everyone’s ass rather than expect a community to agree to tear down the effects of systematic racism. Shaft is the perfect escape movie for times like this. He helps Bumpy Jones find his daughter despite knowing how bad the guy is because that’s what you should do. It doesn’t matter the criminal record or past decisions, when someone needs help, you do it. Even if it is the police causing the problem in the first place. Even if you have no concept how the other person lives, that’s what you do. It might not look as cool as Shaft made it look but helping your community is something he totally digs.

Watchability score: 5/5

Up next: Au Revior Les Enfants

 

#388- M

Quick recap: A child murderer is on the loose and everyone wants to see him caught: parents, the police and especially the criminals, whose good name is being ruined.

Fun (?) fact: Several groundbreaking techniques debuted in M, like voice-over narration and a musical theme to signify a character.

Bonus fact: Director Fritz Lang hired real criminals for the criminal court scene and several were later arrested.

Thoughts and Observations:

So, M was not the movie I expected at all. Not that I expected much because all I knew before watching it was that it was German and made in the early 30s. I pictured a mix of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Jazz Singer. Boy, was my face red when the very first scene was of a group of children singing a song about a murderer butchering them to bits! I still wasn’t quite sure what I had gotten myself into until a few scenes later when the little girl’s body has been dumped in a clearing and the camera focuses on her balloon, no longer tethered, drifting into wires above.

like most things made for children back then, this balloon is a whole other level of creepy

I would be simplifying things too much by calling M a ‘murder mystery’. Yes, murder takes place but Fritz Lang not only wanted to show how different sides were impacted but to get the audience to empathize with each one:

The parents: the first scene of a mother lovingly making lunch while waiting for her child to arrive home from school (which never happened) was especially heartbreaking to watch.

The citizens: The entire town was in a frenzy and willing to suspect literally anyone talking to a child but at the same time, they were dealing with a serial killer who left zero clues.

The police: It’s always fascinating to learn how police solved crimes before DNA matching. In this case, they had one fingerprint and……that’s about it. And the longer it took to catch the murderer, the greater change the city would lose their collective mind and more children would be killed.

The criminal underworld: Did NOT see this one coming but it makes sense. The police began raiding bars every night and rounding up anyone without papers because they had nothing else to go on. As a result, the criminals weren’t able to do their various illegal activities- plus, they are pickpockets not child killers.

and finally, the murderer himself, a former asylum patient released as cured but very much still sick. Played perfectly by Peter Lorre ( a little too perfectly because he had trouble shaking the role even years later), the murderer is so very creepy as he whistles ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’. But I couldn’t help but have sympathy for him as he tried to outrun the mob. His most powerful scene comes during the ‘trial’ with the criminal underworld as he begs for mercy because he couldn’t help himself. And as disgusted as I was by his actions, I believed him. In the final few minutes of the film, the police arrive and arrest him before mob justice is carried out. He gets the treatment he needs but the parents are left asking if justice was really served. It’s a question we still ask to this day without any clear answer.

Watchability score: 5/5

Up next: Gabbeh