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4.5 out of 5 stars108
4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 18 January 2003
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.
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It's September 1871 in a remote part of Jutland in Denmark - and on a rain-sodden night - a young French woman dressed in hooded garb knocks on the door of elderly sisters Martine and Filippa. The serenely beautiful ladies live frugally and quietly in tiny houses high above the cliffs in a deeply Christian Community - generously feeding the elderly of the flock every single day with hot food culled from their basic cooking skills.

The woman is Babette Hersant - once a worshipped culinary chef in Café Anglais in Paris - and she bears a letter from an elderly French Opera Singer called Achille Papin. He has sent Babette to Denmark by boat to escape political rioting in the capitol city that has robbed her of everything including a husband. Papin visited the sisters when they were youthful beauties many decades back - and lost his heart to Filippa's angelic voice (words from a duet they sing in a clinch together titles this review). But because of fear and entrenched Christian beliefs - Filippa could not bear what their burgeoning love was doing to her soul - so she had her Pastor father send him away (and silence his singing). But Papin remembered her kindness too - so he has sent the broken Babette into their care.

14 years pass and Babette has now worked her way into the hearts of the kindly sisters, the local grocer and even the fishermen who can't pass off rancid meat or old fish on the food-knowledgeable Babette. She even knows where the herbs are on the wild grass stretches that overlook the Sea.

Babette's only link with France is a lottery ticket a kind relative keeps renewing for her year after year. And one day she gets a letter - she's won 10,000 Francs. To their astonishment Babette doesn't want to squander the money on clothes or fine things - but instead payback their kindness by cooking the austere community a proper French Dinner in honour of their Pastor Father whose anniversary is approaching. And Babette wants to do it her way. The sisters agree but have no idea of the opulence that is going to invade their linen-covered table and remain tearfully terrified of its corruptive nature. But great wine, champagne, real turtle soup, sumptuous cooking and divine food mellow the bickering and tetchy elderly community and bring about a deep healing - even a spiritual renaissance of sorts...

Released in the summer of 1987 and directed by Gabriel Axel (a Danish language movie with English subtitles) - the film is based on a story by Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen) and its full title is "Karen Blixen's Babette's Gaestebud". It was Denmark's first Oscar Win for a foreign language film (also took the BAFTA).

Special mention should be made of the 'young' sisters whose back-story of 'lost love' gives the film its beating heart. A dashing Hussar called Lorens Lowenhielm is stationed in a Garrison Town living a life of tedium and gambling. His father feels he needs to be 'sent away' - so ships the blue-uniformed young man off to his aunt in Norre Vosburg in Jutland. One afternoon out of horseback he sees his redemption from creditor notes and parental lectures - the beautiful young Martine. He immediately tries to woe both her and the pious community who surrender her at every moment - but soon becomes painfully aware that his needs for luxury and easy living far outweigh his needs for Martine. So Lorens leaves and marries a countess with wealth and position. But he has of course made the mistake of a lifetime.

Now an old man but still a dashing officer - he is invited to the feast - and recognizes the extraordinary cooking skills from a past encounter in Paris (like a warm glow from the past). But more than that - he fills old Martine's heart with joy by telling her that he has always loved her - and not even the physicality of years or body will keep them apart spiritually (his declaration of love to her at the end is one of the loveliest pieces of dialogue in cinema).

I wish I could say the Artificial Eye BLU RAY is a triumph - far from it. Despite its BFI logo - the print has specs of dirt on it, lines showing on occasion and a fair amount of natural fuzzy grain. It does look cleaned up in some places - beautiful even - but the BLU RAY improvement is slight. It's defaulted to 1.85:1 so fills the entire screen but there's no getting away from the fact that its good rather than great - which given the sumptuous nature of the feast - is so disappointing (docked a star for that). As I say - it does look shockingly clean in places - but anyone expecting frame-by-frame clean up can look elsewhere. There is a short interview in French with Stephane Audran who is intensely proud of the 'masterpiece' they made and Subtitles are in Danish, Swedish, French and English.

"Babette's Feast" is a gentle film - slow and even pious to a point of being farcical. But the good-humour and warmth will etch its way into your heart - and after you witness the feast - be prepared to raid the cookie jars in your kitchen with a passion.

As young Papin's heart soars and he tells young Filippa she has 'the voice of joy' - there are moments in "Babette's Feast" when you are in complete lip-smacking agreement with the rotund Frenchman. A beautiful life-affirming movie and then some...
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on 2 February 2008
This is an elegant film which tells a story filled with symbolism and meaning. The cinematography is outstanding. It is a highly focused story where dialogue is minimal but used to maximum effect. It is about committment, family loyalty, devotion to religion, love, charity, and worldly temptations. The film is based on a short book by Isak Dinesen titled "Anecdotes of Destiny". Most interesting is how much of the story and filming occurs within the small village in Denmark. Also, much of the story occurs when the main characters are elderly ...It is great story of faith and giving.

Taking place in the 19th century, Martina and Phillipa are the beautiful daughters of a Lutheran pastor in a fishing village in northern Denmark. Their father started a religious sect which is very austere and pious. It emphasizes the "world to come" and preaches controlling the passions and appetites of this world. The two lovely daughters never attend balls or parties so the young men who wish to make their acquaintance must attend her father's church to eye the two beauties and speak to them. Two young men in particular fall in love with these ladies but it is not within their destinies to fulfull their desires. Officer Lorens Lowenhielm enters the scene when he is sent back by the Army to live in the palace with his wealthy Aunt for a time. He falls in love with Martina when he first sees her while riding on the hillside of the village when she is drawing water from the well. She chooses to live with her father rather than marry this handsome officer. Phillipa's soprano voice is heard by a French visitor to the village, Achilles Papin who performs opera on the stage in Paris. He approachers her father to offer Phillipa private voice lessons. Achilles Papin is convinced Phillipa will "wow" the Parisians where she would become a diva ... Phillipa also declines to pursue this worldy temptation and remains living in the village with her father instead.

As the years pass, the beauty of the two sisters fades but never disappears. They perform works of charity for the poor, carrying on the devoted life to which they became accustomed after their father died. There remains a small flock of true believers who meet on Sundays to worship and recall the teachings of this pious man of the cloth. The two sisters receive a letter from Achilles Papin from Paris, asking the sisters to receive Babette into their home. She is a French lady who survived the French Revolution but lost all her family and possesions. She becomes their maid and servant ... making herself indespensible to their lives. The two sisters are able to carry out more of their charitable works and notice Babette has a way of helping them increase their income and livlihood as well.

Good fortune shines on Babette, after many years of servitude, she won the French lottery, a princely sum of 10,000 francs. On the 100th birthday of their father, Babette offers to cook a dinner for the sisters and the congregation. Despite some misgivings, the sisters agree. Everyone who attends promises not to show any pleasure in what they eat but to act "just as if we never had a sense of taste" for to enjoy would surely be viewed as a sin. They determine not to mention anything about the food when partaking of it.

It is a sensuous delight to watch Babette prepare the various courses ... The camera does a superb job of capturing the parishioner's faces who do their damndest to look sullen and neutral while eating this gourmet feast. There is a special dinner guest from the past ... It so happens he did *not* promise to deny his pleasure in dining on this feast. It is highly amusing to watch the guests respond with remarks about the weather as this special guest describes each succulent and delectable dish. His expressions of appreciation for each French delicacy is priceless. He especially appreciates the superb Spanish wine and champagne, which it is noted none of the parishioners refuse. It is quite funny, watching them imitate the guest as he eats each course. The film has a most impressive ending which symbolizes how Babette essentially became the widow who gave totally and selflessly *all* that she had (as in the Bible story about the widow's mite). Erika Borsos (pepper flower)
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on 9 August 2001
I agree with the reviewer from London who laments the fact that this version is dubbed - and doesn't warn the buyer. This is one of my all-time favourite films in the Danish language original with English sub-titles. In English it loses so much of its atmosphere and appeal.
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on 10 February 2001
Absolutely disgraceful that this version does not come with a warning that it has been dubbed from its original Danish into American English. The film loses so much because of this.
I would have much prefered a subtitled version and am still looking (in vain) for one.
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on 18 March 2009
Babette's Feast [DVD] [1987]
This refers to the MGM Region 2 DVD.

This edition is presented with the option of the original Danish/French language soundtrack with English subtitles - which is eaxctly how you'd want to watch it. The film is a non-anamorphic presentation, which means if you watch it in normal 4x3 mode, there's a black bar on the top and bottom of the picture. The film originally was shot in a 1.66:1 ratio, which means you ideally want to zoom in a little (to 14:9) so that the image fits lengthways onto a widescreen TV. However if you do that, half of the subtitles are missing!
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VINE VOICEon 28 February 2006
Spend all the winnings on a gourmet dinner for a dozen of ascetic Danish puritans ? No, I didn't think so. But that's exactly what refugee French chef Babette does in this unusual, yet appealing, film about life in a remote Jutland village in the 19th Century. "Babette's Feast" has a strong philosophical theme running through it as the lives of the two saintly spinsters are held up in contrast to some of the more urbane and exciting characters they met in their youth. The film is strong on characterisation and is well acted throughout ,dealing with themes like faith,loyalty, love and duty superbly well. The Feast when it is appears is like a gift of love from God Himself to His faithful flock. A memorable film.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 2 January 2013
Having just seen this film again in the cinema, for the first time since its VHS incarnation, it strikes me as still being the ultimate film about food. Never has the culinary art been represented with such grace and succulence as here, not even in Julie and Julia. This is partly down to the warming of the tonal palette at this stage of the film, and also its pacing - everything has been quite austere up to this point, but then suddenly it becomes a sensual delight, a kind of gastronomic equivalent of a street parade, where one just gazes in wonder at the ever more extraordinary creations. It also has to do with Stephane Audran, at least for the grace part, as she adds a note of sheer elegance with her amazing bearing and features, both finely etched and full of humanity. Apparently the role was initially offered to Catherine Deneuve (see wikipedia!), but much as I love Deneuve I think Audran is just right, and furthermore she was always trying to cook a meal in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie 17 years earlier, and failing, so it's nice to see her succeed here with such style! The film is brilliant in other visual aspects too - the two sisters are perfectly cast in their slightly timid kindness and purity, the interiors make wonderful scenes reminiscent of Dutch - or Danish - genre painting in their careful composition and beautiful light, and the kitchen boy carrying in a board of fruit looks as if he might easily have been intercepted by Caravaggio, while offsetting the elderly guests poignantly. Babette's treatment of him and the coachman adds a further dimension of kindness to her role, and discipline too ...

Where I think it falls a little short is if you compare it to The Dead, which forms a parallel to it in so many ways. Again, two sisters host a meal in a historical setting quite close to this one, and the meal itself is much less distinguished. But the source novella is rather deeper and it shows up the rather plot-driven essence of Isak Dinesen's story. Both films focus on the meal, with a second high point coming just after in the form of a musical interlude. The tenor singing against Angelica Huston's listening head is a fantastic moment of cinema, and I found Bodil Kjer's chorale singing at the piano similarly moving in Babette's Feast. However in The Dead this ushers in a final section that amazes and uplifts the viewer, a bit like reaching a mountain peak only to discover an even higher one still to climb. It really is deeply moving in the light of everything that has gone before. In Babette's Feast the last act comes down to a plateau, and the final scenes are slightly banal in comparison with what we have just seen. In the end it doesn't quite get beyond the sentimental pieties, not really having anywhere to go. Having said that, there is a lot to enjoy in the meal and its build-up, this section itself being a bit like something delicious wrapped in pastry, but perhaps it could have done with a bit less pastry - unlike Babette's "cailles en sarcophage" ...
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VINE VOICEon 25 April 2013
In 19th Century Denmark, there is a strict Protestant community, living a hard life, with Puritan ideals. One day, a French Catholic refugee arrives, asking to be taken in. In return, she will work for them, as cook and housekeeper. They agree to do this, and some time later, Babette, the Frenchwoman (played by the wonderful Stephane Audran) comes into a large some of money. She resolves to spend it on a gastronomic feast for the family, and an important villager.
The resulting banquet changes the lives, and the attitudes of those attending. Does this sound as dull as dishwater? Not a chance. It is simply a delight, with first class performances from all involved, and a story that remains unique in film-making. This 1987 film from Denmark, won an Oscar the following year, and still seems as good today as I remember it, 26 years ago.
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on 5 November 2007
Every artist is allowed a masterpiece. Babette's masterpiece is the dinner for twelve that she gives to the sisters who have given her a home.

This film, too, is a masterpiece - see it, and you will never forget it. Its gentle rhythm, its thoughtfulness, its beautiful performances, script, and photography have made it the classic that it deserves to be.

If there is a parallel, it's John Houston's last film, 'The Dead' - a similarly gentle examination of lost or forgotten love, and the things that might have been, but never were ...

As with 'The Dead', the adaptation is so faithful that you can turn the pages of the original as you watch the film - and it's somehow even better for that. There has been no need to 'adapt for the screen': the story speaks for itself in magnificently visual language.

The word 'great' is horribly overused, but this is indeed great movie-making. It's not an epic: there are no battles, no fights, no violence, no hysteria - and the only spectacles are on the elderly cast's noses. There is food, and plenty of it, and there is enjoyment, and warmth, and humanity, and -

If you haven't seen it - don't miss it. (NB - The 25th anniversary reissue is worth every penny.)
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