Importance of food: 5
Importance of love: 5
Importance of love of food: 5
At a family gathering last weekend I got into trouble with Zanna's mum, who said she and her friends believe I portray Zanna poorly in these reviews. After we left, things became fraught between Zanna and me, words were exchanged and I agreed I'd be more careful with my language.
But the issue lingered in our house like the smell of overripe fruit and became particularly pungent in the aftermath of our watching Babette's Feast. Zanna's mum and her friends may as well have been sitting menacingly on the couch alongside us, daring me to say negative things about the object of our shared love, the woman I cherish more than anything in the world besides my children, who are joint-first.
We struggled to find things to say. Our discussion was mostly space. We sought diplomacy rather than robustness. There were many sounds of agreement and encouragement as we built on and reinforced each other's views. Eventually, we anchored on the subject of the soldier who tries to win the love of one of the sisters at the story's centre, then gives up, believing it impossible, meeting her again only decades later, at the titular feast.
"I thought that was going to have a different outcome," Zanna said.
"That they were going to pash?" I said.
"That he was going to say he wanted to dine with her every evening in the flesh," she said. "Not in the soul. Who gives a f*** about the soul?"
"Wow," I said.
"You want them in the flesh."
"I guess that's the essence of the movie isn't it?" I said. "The clash of the soul and the flesh, and what we need to make us happy. And strangely, on the one hand, they're saying the flesh, the food, the literal flesh of the animal and then on the other – in the love sense – they're saying the soul is what matters."
"It's a little bit about fleeting joys versus sustained passion," she said.
"Yes," I said. "The fleeting joy of the meal is capable of sparking sustained passion by bringing people together. I guess that's the essence of it, isn't it? Bringing people together?"
"Mmm," she said.
There was a long pause. She yawned. "We should go to bed," she said. "It's late and that's potentially the most boring conversation we've ever had."
On the evening we watched Babette's Feast I had read Roald Dahl's The Magic Finger to our daughters. This spiralled into a conversation about hunting that I frankly wasn't prepared for: "But there are no hunters in New Zealand," Clara declared. Saying things aren't in New Zealand is her number one method of dealing with fear. When I said there are hunters in New Zealand, Tallulah said, "But they don't use guns.". I corrected her too, reluctantly explaining the basics of meat production. They both looked at me agog, disgusted, maybe even traumatised. Tallulah gasped: "But not farmers! Farmers don't kill animals! Right?" I anticipate a vegetarian phase in our future.
At a line drawing on page nine of a dead deer hog-tied to a stick, they had squealed "No! Not little deery!" So, later, as I watched Babette carry a cage of adorable chirpy little quails into her kitchen slaughterhouse, I had their voices in my head screaming "NO! Not cute widdle birdies!" Then there was the giant sea turtle just chilling on Babette's kitchen bench, waiting to become turtle soup.
Sure, I eat meat, but like most meat-eaters, I prefer my meat not to bear any resemblance to sentient beings. But not Babette: that woman has a dedication to animal-based delicacies that means she has no qualms butchering a cage of fluffy little chicks, hand-plucking their feathers, arranging their bodies inside a pastry case and carefully positioning their bald heads at what she considers the most appetising angle. Does one eat the beak? And the eyeballs?
For many, the second half of Babette's Feast is pure food porn but the film is about much more than that: pleasure and indulgence, religion and restraint, desire, love, loss and abstinence. It's not about animal welfare. The two Danish sisters at the centre of the film live on a diet of brown ale bread stew - which looks a lot like lumpy gravy - and prayer. But Jesus himself couldn't make that piteous bowl of sludge look appetising.
Greg was perturbed by the idea that the degustation-style feast Babette prepares, which costs her every cent she has, is an ode to decadence and thus the film posits that joy is a preposterously expensive meal by a fancy French chef.
I was less concerned about that, because after two months of cooking what felt like 700 meals a day at home, spending our life savings (of which we have none) on an extravagant meal made by someone else sounds like heaven - as long as I don't have to come face-to-face with any cute little birdies or deeries.
Babette's Feast is available for streaming on Google Play and Amazon Prime Video.