This is my favourite film. It oozes humanity and love, but not to overflowing: there is no glossing-over of life's injustices and problems. Most importantly, it never loses its sense of humour. In fact the major success of the film is to let us laugh at the characters but not to undermine them. It is delightfully funny to see characters being their usual selves - conceited, puritan or over-romantic - but the funniness isn't malicious.
In some ways the least interesting character is Babette herself. Her character is certainly the least developed, and her last scene verges on soupiness - but just keeps to the right side. The general, on the other hand, is marvellously written and acted. His scene with Martine (whom he has loved, but never visited, for many decades) is deeply touching, and just captures the feeling of warmth after a sublime banquet.
The speech that he makes while the 'cailles en sarcophage' are served is the crux of the film: physical pleasure (eating, he means), when the food is good enough, is just like spiritual pleasure, or love. This shocks his puritan fellow diners, who were initially worried about the sin of a gluttonous banquet. But the banquet is art, not gluttony, and they feel the truth of what he says: the schisms and discord in the congregation vanish, and in the last sight we have of the villagers they are in a circle around the village well, under the stars, singing the same hymn they sung with the old pastor earlier in the film.
The cinematography is very good, and the Danish setting is as beautiful as they come. As for the sound, I think this film is much better in the original soundtrack with subtitles: the English dubbing has an unpleasant Disney quality. (The DVD has this feature, as well as notably better picture and sound quality). By the way there is a beautiful song near the end, just after the banquet.
This film's gentle beauty amply makes up for a few rough edges and less successful scenes here and there. 5 stars is the only rating possible.