The worlds of the physical and the spiritual collide and embrace in grand and glorious harmony in Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast. With a carefully paced and beautifully modulated story adapted from Isak Dinesen and a terrific array of fine actors underplaying to tremendous effect, Babette’s Feast is one of those cinematic jewels that will continue to glimmer as long as there are folks willing to wait and watch one of the true transformational marvels of 20th century filmmaking.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 44 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raybook-like case inside cardboard slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 07/23/2013
Filippa (Hanne Stensgaard, Bodil Kjer in old age) and Martine (Vibeke Hastrup, Birgitte Federspiel in old age) are two sisters who as strictly practicing Lutherans have foregone the opportunities for love and fame to remain by their father’s side leading his congregation and, after his death, serving as dutiful practitioners of Christ’s teachings among their humble Danish brethren. In 1871, a French refugee Babette Hersant (Stephane Audran) arrives with a note from Martine’s formerly ardent pursuer Papin (Jean-Philippe Lafont) asking for the sisters to give her sanctuary which they readily do adding her to their household as their cook. But time is wearing down the faith of the sisters’ parishioners as they openly squabble about past slights and seem to be growing farther apart from the examples the girls’ father had set. But Babette, who has just won a French lottery prize of 10,000 francs, decides she wants to use the money to prepare a genuine French meal the likes of which no one in the village has ever seen or tasted. But the sisters and their fold aren’t sure a rich meal is proper enough for their faith built on the tenets of sacrifice and poverty.
The Production Rating: 5/5
Director Gabriel Axel adapted Isak Dinesen’s short story for the screen and uses subtlety as a powerful tool in telling the tale foregoing overwhelming amounts of dialogue with sensationally evocative close-ups of faces and fixtures letting them speak volumes without words. Wisely, the flashbacks with the two young, beautiful sisters are spare and get their points across without belaboring the sacrifices each makes, and the director is wise enough to offer us only small peeps into the kitchen as the feast is being prepared making the actual feast, presented course by course during the film’s final forty minutes, the film’s raison d’etre. He’s also retained the very smart use of the general (Jarl Kulle) returning to the home of his lost love and serving as a kind of expert in cuisine explaining to the ignorant villagers (and us who have limited knowledge of French cooking and fine wine) exactly what is being served and how marvelously it’s been prepared. With its limited dialogue and controlled emotional palette, it’s amazing how funny and how touching the film’s methodical but ultimately entrancing spell on the viewer is. It would be a rare person who doesn’t see or understand the spiritual uplift this amazing food has on the community who consumes it: the kind of communal bond established when a group undergoes together something profoundly unique and life-affirming.
Both incarnations of the sisters are tremendously effective. Bodil Kjer and Birgitte Federspiel as the older sisters have more screen time, and yet as their faces begin to transform during the amazing meal presented to them, one can almost imagine their younger embodiments inhabiting these older bodies. Jarl Kulle as the elderly general who ultimately understands Filippa’s choice by the end of the meal gives a wrenching performance of great nuance as he has his epiphany near film’s end. Stephane Audran is very understated, too, as Babette, and yet the slight smile of triumph as her meal concludes speaks volumes. Jean-Philippe Lafont as the pompous operatic tenor Papin whose pursuit of the youthful Martine has later ramifications for them all is very entertaining.
The film is presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio and is offered in 1080p using the AVC codec. Color is very subdued throughout (film clips used in some of the bonus features show more vibrant color timing), and flesh tones are generally good though occasionally veer toward being overly pink. Sharpness is usually outstanding in close-ups and medium shots, but in long shots there is some softness and lack of definition. While age-related artifacts are not a problem, there seems to be one moment where a kind of checkerboard pattern appears in the background of a scene, never to be repeated. The white English subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 27 chapters.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo surround sound mix is very effective. Dialogue is always very clear and is never compromised by sound effects or music cues. Fidelity is generally very good (the young Martine of Vibeke Hastrup sounds lovely in her singing lessons), and the spread of sound effects like ocean waves or horses galloping get some nice spread from the fronts to the rears.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
Gabriel Axel Interview (8:41, HD): a 2013 interview with the director-writer of the film finds him discussing the themes and style of his Oscar-winning movie.
Special Features Rating: 4.5/5
Through Babette’s Eyes (24:21, HD): actress Stephane Audran reminisces about playing the role in the film and discusses her suggestions during pre-production to give the film more flavor.
Table Scraps (26:00, HD): a video essay on the movie written and directed by Michael Almereyda which traces the journey of the film from Isak Dinesen’s short story to the finished film. It’s narrated by Lori Singer.
Karen Blixen – Storyteller (1:30:07, HD): Christian Thomsen’s 1995 documentary on the life of the baroness who wrote under the pen name of Isak Dinesen. Friends and family are interviewed along with excerpts from Blixen’s television appearances in the decade before her death.
An Artist for the Everyday (17:00, HD): 2013 interview with food expert Priscilla Ferguson which deals with the history of French cuisine and the important part it plays in the original short story and movie.
Theatrical Trailer (1:28, HD)
65-Page Booklet: contains the chapter listing, cast and crew lists, a series of color stills, film professor Mark Le Fanu’s analysis of the movie, and Isak Dinesen’s original short story.
Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
A film of subtle moods and exemplary execution, Babette’s Feast is a film banquet of the first order. A beautiful looking and sounding Blu-ray release, the bonus materials are a rich dessert to go with the sumptuous main course. Highly recommended!
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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