Oscar night is coming. Are you ready? I’m not. In fact, I almost totally forgot about them this year– and that’s saying something, considering the fact that, as a ten year-old, I decided to memorize every Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (all four categories) for the first fifty years that Academy Awards were being handed out.*
Granted, this is a food blog, but don’t worry, I’m not going to start talking about Julie & Julia. While I am thrilled for Miss Streep’s much deserved 27,000th nomination for her performance as Mrs. Child, I think they should have renamed the film Julia Child & That Unpleasant Woman Who Is Mean to Her Husband (It’s a good thing I’m not in marketing). So, instead of discussing the already discussed-to-death aforementioned film which, in my opinion, is only half a great film, I’m bringing you two wholly great ones: Babette’s Feast (Babette’s Gæstebud, 1987) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie, 1972). Both films (conveniently enough for today’s topic) won Oscars for Best Foreign Language film. Even more happy-making, they both star one, particular actress, Stephane Audran.
There are few food cinema enthusiasts who have not seen Babette’s Feast— gorgeous with it’s stark Jutland scenery and quiet story of two pious sisters who take in a (unbeknownst to them) world famous, war-fleeing chef. It is story of food and the balancing of souls. For Babette, her desire is to prepare a special meal to show her love for the two sisters is one that comes from the depths of hers. The sisters, however, fear that to partake in such a meal would imperil theirs.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie makes for a strange companion piece to Babette’s Feast. Where as Babette’s Feast is absurdly beautiful, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is beautifully absurd. There is virtually no plot and the principle characters are essentially unlikeable, yet we are compelled to follow them as they weave in and out of dreams and dreams-within-dreams and try, without success, to eat– anything. Coincidentally, Audran’s Alice Senechal is the hostess of a some increasingly elaborate diner parties in which these characters fail to consume a single bite of food until the end of the film.
And with very interesting results indeed.
I saw the two of these films together– one right after the other– with a friend of mine while we were both orphaned and nursing hangovers on Christmas Day. I hadn’t decided to have a mini Stephane Audran film festival, I simply let my friend Edward choose the films to watch among my collection. I was struck by how differently these to films approach eating and yet both essentially arrive at the same conclusion– that the sharing of food is communion; a way of restoring both body and soul. In Babette’s Feast, old wrongs are forgotten, old loves remembered, and souls are nourished. In The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, the characters cannot manage to feed their souls because they are essentially soulless. And, best of all, they both star one of my favorite actresses.
So go ahead and watch your little Oscar show. Go to your Oscar party. When the stardust has cleared and the losers have finished pretending to be happy for the winners, take an evening out of your busy schedule and watch these two Oscar winners back-to-back. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie first, then Babette’s Feast and you can find out for yourself what I’m talking about. It’s a little cinematic food for the soul.
Unless, of course, you don’t have one.
* It was for too long my party trick until I started to know people who were born after 1977.