Film History Essentials: Repas de Bébé (1895)

(English: Baby’s Meal)

What it’s about:

A small family sits outside, eating a meal. The father feeds the baby a few scoops, with much of it getting on her face. He then hands her a biscuit, which she tastes and tries to give back. The wind proves distracting, blowing her collar into her face, and the father prepares another spoonful of food for her. Meanwhile, the mother pours and drinks a cup of tea with sugar.

Why it’s essential:

Auguste Lumière is alleged to have said that the cinematograph was merely a “scientific curiosity” that would have “no commercial value” once the brief novelty period had ended. Louis purportedly said that it was “an invention without a future.” If true, this is quite surprising, though not because it is so short-sighted. It’s surprising because the 10-film program the Lumière brothers premiered before audiences in December of 1895 looks very much like a deliberately-chosen blueprint for the future of motion picture commercialization.

True, some of the “actualities” that make up a great deal of the program, the films that simply point a camera at an ordinary scene on a city street or at a factory entrance, represent a genre that had only a brief future in commercial filmmaking (though some might regard them as a sort of “proto-documentary,” or even a precursor to more specific non-fiction subgenres like educational films, travelogues, etc.). But Le Débarquement du Congrès de Photographie à Lyon pointed the way towards filmmaking as journalism, and the films of performers pointed to the possibility of stage entertainment reaching vast audiences who could not attend the live performance. And L’Arroseur Arrosé, of course, was an early example of the narrative fiction films that would soon come to dominate what we now think of when we think of “the movies.”

However, the seventh film on the program, Repas de Bébé, suggests one additional possibility: The ability of film to transport the viewer back to a preserved moment in time by capturing a personal memory that can be relived, again and again, no matter how many years have gone by. This scene was recorded in February or March of 1895. Louis was behind the camera, filming. In front of it are his brother Auguste, Auguste’s wife Marguerite, and their daughter Andrée, only about 9 months old. You don’t have to know any of that to recognize this as a tender scene featuring a loving family, but for the Lumières it is more than that: It is the first home movie. Many people have made this connection somewhat jokingly, but I think it’s absolutely correct.

Tragically, Andrée Lumière died at the age of 24, a victim of the 1918 flu pandemic that claimed tens of millions of lives worldwide. Her parents both lived on for decades, Auguste dying in 1954 and Marguerite in 1963. I don’t know what this, and the few other films that Andrée appeared in during the next few years, might have meant to them, and it would be cheaply sentimental to speculate. But I know what it means to me when I watch videos of my children when they were younger. It’s a gift, one that the Lumière brothers helped give to the world.

Why you should see it:

There are some indications that audiences found this film, out of all of them, particularly affecting. Perhaps it’s the intimacy of the scene, captured at a much closer distance than most of the other films in the program. Certainly the genuine warmth and affection that is visible between Auguste and his family must have played a role in that as well. And little Andrée is thoroughly charming, particularly when, after tasting the biscuit (her father has to show her that it’s something to eat), she holds it out towards the camera, perhaps offering it to her Uncle Louis.

However, there are also some surprising elements of the film that stood out to contemporary audiences. We have records of at least a few viewers who remarked on the sight of the wind blowing through the leaves of the trees, visible above Marguerite’s head. I’ll admit that particular detail wasn’t something I would have noticed, but once you notice the way the wind interacts with the scene, it’s a detail that (if you’ve ever eaten outdoors) almost makes you feel like you’re there, even without color or sound.


~ by Jared on February 13, 2023.

2 Responses to “Film History Essentials: Repas de Bébé (1895)”

  1. […] Film History Essentials: Repas de Bébé (1895) | Moviegoings said this on February 13, 2023 at 10:02 am | Reply […]


  2. […] the camera at 0:24 are Auguste’s wife Marguerite and his daughter Andrée, previously seen in Repas de Bébé, filmed in early 1895 when Andrée was less than a year old. We can see here that she is around […]


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