October 19, 2017

Infinite Grace

babettesfeast22

Yet again, I enjoyed watching the film Babette’s Feast (1986) over the weekend.

This delightful movie tells the story of a small sect of Christians in Denmark who live austere lives and shun pretension and ambition. A woman from France arrives in their village and becomes their cook, freeing the two daughters of the sect’s founding pastor to devote themselves to charitable works in the parish. Both daughters had opportunities when they were young beauties to have love and leave the community, but things didn’t work out and they stayed home. After their father died, the daughters carried on his work and tended to the needs of the aging congregation.

The climax of the film comes when Babette, their French cook, puts on a lavish feast for the 100th anniversary celebration of the pastor’s birth. A general attends the feast, a man who had been in love with one of the daughters when they were young. Having since experienced the world, he expresses wonder and astonishment throughout the meal at the fine food and wine they are enjoying. At one point he stands and makes a speech at the table, a reflection on grace. The fact that he is there, at the very table where he had chosen not to follow his heart as a young man, gives him pause. He considers the decisions he had made and the wonderful irony that life had brought him back to this very table to experience such joy.

This is one of my favorite passages about grace in literature and film.

“Mercy and truth have met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another. Man, in his weakness and shortsightedness 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 our 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 have met together, and righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.”

Read our full IM review of Babette’s Feast HERE.

Comments

  1. A terrific movie.

    One of my favorites.

    (you really should see it…anyway)

  2. Rick Ro. says:

    Yep, wonderful movie.

  3. Robert F says:

    “There comes a time when our eyes are opened and we come to realize that mercy is infinite.”

    “Does it matter? All is grace.” The last words, at the end of the book, of the dying young priest in Georges Bernanos novel, Diary of a Country Priest.

  4. Mule Chewing Briars says:

    The use of matter and intentional human artifice to mediate grace is strongly illustrated by this film. I see the director spent his formative years in France. I cannot but wonder if there isn’t a little Catholic winking at Anabaptist semi-gnosticism here.

    Other movies so good as to qualify as grace in and of themselves are Tokyo Godfathers and Amal

    • Not that it matter, but the “Anabaptist” characters aren’t – they’re Lutherans.

    • will f. says:

      Hi, I’m curious as to what you mean by Anabaptist semi-Gnosticism. Could you elaborate? thank you

      • will – not sure I’d take that seriously. For myself, I think it’s a bit confusing, perhaps intentionally so.

        Am sure the director saw the contrast between northern, rural Denmark (Jutland) and France all the more clearly for having lived abroad, though I’m curious about his Danish background now – city boy or raised far from the bright lights of Copenhagen?

      • “Our choice is of no importance” is likely what praggeled Mule. That statements **sounds** like Monism or Universalism.

        When I read the quoted toast I immediately thought of Julian of Norwich;

        And thus our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts that I might make, saying full comfortably, ‘I may make all things well, I can make all thing well, and I will make all thing well, and I shall make all thing well, and you shall see your self that all manner of thing shall be well’. That he says ‘I may’ I understand for the Father and he says ‘I can’ I understand for the Son. And where he says ‘I will’, I understand for the holy Ghost. And where he says ‘I shall’ I understand for the Unity of the Blessed Trinity, Three Persons and One Truth. And where he says, ‘You shall see yourself’, I understand the oneing coming of all mankind who shall be saved into the blissful Trinity.

  5. One of the finest films ever made, IMHO. Thought provoking and very humorous as it explores our foibles. Love the banquet scenes, eating and prep.

  6. Do any of you get hungry when you watch that movie?

  7. Absolutely, Steve. The photography is the best. Contrasting the bleakness of the coastal town, the “pious prune” faces of the church members with the prep. and beauty of each banquet dish, the camera made the food look wonderful.

  8. Bridget says:

    Looks like a wedding feast! Though the peeps aren’t looking particularly festive — more awkward and/or pensive that they find themselves in this place.

  9. The feast of light shining when there was once dark – the joy of love when once there was hate – the wonder of peace when once there was turmoil – when one discovers that God wasn’t hating them, He actually loves more than we know . . . that is the Feast.

  10. Dana Ames says:

    Then the guests leave, go outdoors and actually are able to see the beauty of the night sky, and in the town, and in one another…

    Dana

  11. Apparently the visuals in the film were suggested by a painting by Niels Bjerre, The Prayer Meeting. Further searching turned up the names of a couple of different pietist Lutheran movements in 19th c. Denmark – and iirc, someone on a film board I used to read was easily able to i.d. the group the sisters were part of due to some of the pictures in their home.

    So, a very austere form of Lutheranism + a petroleuse chef from France, and voila! (fwiw, I’m more of a fan of the Isak Dinesen story on which the film was based than of the film itself, but reading this post really makes me want to watch it again – thanks, CM!)

  12. Can anyone make other recommendations of grace themed films? Not “christian” movies made to sell tickets to an evangelical audience, but films with threads of grace running through the internals of the narrative — a la Babette’s Feast.

    I am looking for ideas to be screened at a coffeehouse ministry, open to and attracting believers, seekers and unbelievers and providing a pivot point for subsequent conversation.

    • A Robin Williams movie with ‘Dreams’ in the title. Only love can defeat death is the essence of it.

    • Try the movies “Chocolat” and “Men with Guns” (English title but via Netflix in Spanish with English subtitles). The latter is about a Latin American doctor (Argentinian?) who confronts despair and poverty in small towns. Sounds depressing, but it’s a beautiful story of redemption and grace.

      Paul Zahl’s book “Grace in Practice” mentions a ton of movies, books, and stories that address the theological virtues.

    • Return of the Jedi – Darth Vader got to hang with Yoda and Obi Wan in the after life.

    • Tender Mercies

      • Joseph (the original) says:

        Trip to Bountiful. by far, my favorite movie of all time…

        and of course, Lilies of the Field. classic in the truest sense…

    • I will comment on my own comment to add that the BBC/PBS television series “Call the Midwife” is one of the most gospel infused dramas I have ever seen. Nails me almost every time.

      Thanks for the recommend re: Grace in Practice. It’s been on my list for some time. I’ll move it along.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      “Stranger Than Fiction” with Will Ferrell.

      The Three Colors trilogy (“Blue,” “White,” and “Red”) by Krzysztof Kie?lowski.

      “Au hasard Balthazar” by Robert Bresson.

      “Gran Torino” by Clint Eastwood.

      A 16-minute short film called “Validation.” Lively, fun, poignant, great message. Available on YouTube or at “shortoftheweek.com” (some other good short films there).

  13. Les Miserables

  14. Patrick Kyle says:

    Love this movie. I need to watch it again.

  15. Today’s post is an excellent coda to last week’s ranging discussion about works. This film, the novel from which it was inspired, and the speech by the soldier, are a beautiful homily on Psalm 85.

    The tale shows that faith by itself is impotent. When evidenced with righteous works faith is loving, healing, and produces unifying graces.

  16. OK, I watched the movie again, and enjoyed it a good deal more than the first time around. Still, I think it narrowly avoids falling into overt sentimentality, and still prefer the Dinesen story.

    But such marvelous acting and cinematography! And such beautiful light and skies in the locale where it was shot.

    It does occur to me that the locals would likely have been suspicious of Babette’s cooking due to the fact that they are people from a remote area who have never encountered anything like it. She might as well have come from another planet as far as they’re concerned, and their religious beliefs are an overlay on top of the small town distrust of anything different or innovative or, God forbid, *foreign.*

  17. Yes, Babbette’s Feast, Les Miserables, and another one that really has echoes of grace is Because of Winn-Dixie.