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Two Movies About French Food

Make that two great movies about French food. Last Friday night we picked up the freebie Fios offering of Babette’s Feast, and then Saturday evening motored off to the Summit Theater for Julie and Julia.

Even though one is a powerful fable about morality, sensuality and generosity; and the other a charming comedy that borders on the screwball at times, they have more in common than just brown sauce.

Julia Child’s boring wife as a diplomat, complaining “what am I going to do,” is transformed by her attending the Cordon Bleu; Julie’s depressing existence answering calls at the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation is changed when she decides to cook her way through Child’s book; The congregation of sisters Filippa and Martine live a bleak life in an isolated village, until Babette wins the lottery and gives them all a previously unimaginable gift.

Meryl Street is, ho-hum, amazing once again. It will be difficult to watch old Julia Child clips because now in my mind she doesn’t look right. But Streep does more than just a funny voice and hairdo. Every little gesture shows how she’s inhabiting this person, even a careless wave of her hand or a moment of faux-confusion. Stanley Tucci is priceless as Paul Child, and together they have the kind of on-screen sexual chemistry that’s pretty rare for the pushing-60 set.

Amy Adams plays against her cutest-girl-ever type once again. With a chopped-off hairstyle and frumpy clothes she’s just another newcomer to Queens, and plays it beautifully. The movie is full of lovely little bit-parts, and the supporting actors uniformly knock them out of the park.

“Babette” offers no real star power. The stars are the script and the cinematography. The beautiful and stark landscape photography, and the use of light, really wowed us. And after the bleakness of existence throughout the movie, the contrast when they enter the dining room for dinner is wonderful.

Toss in the near-miss transformation, when one of the sisters in “Babette” is given the opportunity to become an international Opera star, and you have four lessons about the transformational nature of art.

Babette’s Feast is already a classic, with numerous scholarly papers written about it, theater troupes that present it complete with dinner for the audience, even a one-act opera based on it. Julie and Julia will probably never reach that level of devotion, but they both rate four stars in this book.

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