Friday, October 14, 2005

Movie Review: Babette's Feast

United States, 1987
U.S. Release Date: 10/1/87
Running Time: 1:43
Rated: G
Cast: Stephanie Audran, Birgitte Federspiel, Bodil Kjer, Bibi Anderson, Jarl Kulle, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Ebbie Rode

Director: Gabriel Axel
Producers: Just Betzer and Bo Christensen
Screenplay: Gabriel Axel, based on the short story by Isak Dinesen
Music: Per Nørgård
Studio: MGM Studios
In Danish and French with English Subtitles

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When it comes to films on food, some focus on the fattening, sentimental, or even social qualities of cuisine, while others spotlight its comforting capability over the mind, body, and spirit. Babette’s Feast is one such film that conforms to the latter perception. By depicting love through both sustenance and creed, Babette’s Feast establishes itself as an elegant and profoundly religious plate-of-art that binds us all together as living, loving, and sentient beings.

Based on the short story by Isak Dinesen, Babette’s Feast tells the story of twin sisters, Martina (Birgitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kjer,), who live on Denmark’s Jutland peninsula, during the late nineteenth century.

In their younger years, Martina (Vibeke Hastrup) easily attracted the likes of Lieutenant Lorens Lowenhielm (Gudmar Wivesson), while Philippa (Hanne Stensgaard) effortlessly enticed Achille Papin (Jean-Phillipe Lafont)—a famous opera singer. Nevertheless, the sisters declined their respective suitors in order to remain dedicated to their father’s (Pouel Kern) ministry of helping others.

Thirty five years later, now that their father has been long deceased, the two saintly siblings continue to carry on their father’s preaching of responsibility and charity and serve as the heads of the small Danish village’s religious sect. Practicing what they preach, the sisters graciously welcome a stricken French woman, named Babette (Stéphane Audran), into their home. After realizing that Babette was sent in the name of Achille Papin and that her entire family had been killed in Paris, Martina and Philippa embrace their guest and begin to teach her how to boil cod and make ale-bread soup—the mainstay diet within the poverty-stricken sect.

It isn’t until after 14 years of service, that Babette feels as though she is truly able to repay the sisters with a splendid French feast. The sisters allow Babette to cook the extensive meal for the 100th anniversary of their departed father’s birth, and it just so happens that the now decorated General Lowenhielm (Jarl Kulle) is invited.

Despite Babette’s Feast being slow-moving during its first half, the pace quickens in the climactic second half throughout the preparation, presentation, and consumption of the feast. At this point, Director Gabriel Axel skillfully conducts Babette’s kitchen as if it was a symphony—providing the utmost attention to detail. In both the preparing of the food and the presenting of the drink, Axel utilizes the bubbling of the pots, the fizzing of the champagne, and the soft clanking of the silverware to a blissful extreme. In doing so, he wisely avoids any type of musical fanfare that forces the audience to feel a certain way; instead, he allows the near silence to reveal the sincerity that Babette pours into making each delicacy as perfect as humanly possible.

Babette’s Feast is a beautiful reminder of how bountiful the banquet of life can truly be. It is a picture that promotes peace and tolerance and trumpets the importance of overcoming self-doubts, displaying God-given talents, and uniting a community in meal, song, and praise. With the capacity to both make your tastebuds dance and fill your heart with hope, Babette’s Feast is guaranteed to satisfy.

When asked to recommend a film that champions food and its ties to the body and soul, no other film is more exquisitely superb and wonderfully nourishing than Babette’s Feast. This 1987 Oscar winner for “Best Foreign Language Film” reigns queen of all that is culinary and cinematic. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005