Babette’s Feast (1987)

  • Time: 102 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Music
  • Director: Gabriel Axel
  • Cast: Stéphane Audran, Jean-Phillipe Lafont, Jarl Kulle


In a remote 19th Danish century village two sisters lead a rigid life centered around their father, the local minister, and their church. Both had opportunities to leave the village: one could have married a young army officer and the other, a French opera singer. Their father objected in each case and they spent their lives caring for him. Many years later – their father is now deceased – they take in French refugee, Babette Hersant, who agrees to work as their servant. After winning the lottery, Babette wants to repay the sisters for their kindness and offers to cook a French meal for them and their friends on the 100th anniversary of their father’s birth. It proves to be an eye-opening experience for everyone.

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  • Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast, adapted from Karen Blixen’s short story of the same name (written under the pen name Isak Dinesen) and winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, is about both the richness of true artistry and the spiritual necessity of sampling what few pleasures life has to offer during our short time on Earth. Like an exquisite, expensive meal, it moves at a slow pace and requires you to savour the delicate starters before the wholly satisfying climax arrives like a rich dessert and fine malt whiskey, resulting in the most romantic film about living a quiet, pious life ever made.

    Two elderly sisters, Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Filippa (Bodil Kjer), have lived in a windy, remote hamlet in Jutland, Denmark their entire life. Years ago, their father (Pouel Kern) was a highly respected pastor, and with his two young and beautiful daughters (played in flashback by Vibeke Hastrup and Hanne Stensgaard), ran a small conventicle, who still meet up occasionally to converse. The sisters are courted in their youth by two men – cavalry officer Lorens Lowenhielm (Jarl Kulle), who falls in love with Martine, and opera singer Achille Papin (Jean-Philippe Lafont), who happens to hear Filippa’s flawless singing voice and longs to make her a star. Both reject their suitors advances out of loyalty to their marriage-spurning father, and remain alone together for the remainder of their lives.

    One day, a French refugee named Babette (Stephane Audran) arrives having being sent by the ageing Papin to escape the bloody Paris Commune. The sisters have no money to pay her, but take her in when Babette offers to work for food and shelter. Her swaggering nature makes her hit in the small coastal town, and she stays with Martine and Filippa for years. When she receives a letter from Paris informing her that she has won 10,000 francs in the lottery, she begs the sisters to put aside their rigorous routine and allow her to cook them and their white-haired conventicle a fine French feast. They reluctantly agree but soon become concerned at the exotic ingredients arriving at their doorstep (including a live turtle), but Babette’s feast with be spiritually enlightening for everyone involved.

    Babette’s Feast manages to gaze warmly on a life that may seem harsh and miserable to many, and the early scenes of the sisters turning their backs on a life of true love and fame is difficult to watch. But Martine and Filippa remain without any bitterness; their only concern being the dwindling resources due to a lack of new members to their flock. In their old age, the rest of the group have become quarrelsome, but as each beautiful course is served, the petty issues are mended as they all experience the earthly miracle being set out in front of them. We taste every bite and get light-headed as the wine is supped, and it’s a truly sincere experience. It also retains a tenderness and a grace usually lost in movies designed to pull on the heart-strings, and this is embodied by Audran who is outstanding as the eponymous artist.

    Rating: 5/5

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