Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Babette's Feast

Based on the short story by Karen Blixen under the Isak Dinesen pseudonym, Babette’s Feast is the story of a housekeeper who decides to create a feast for religious villagers in late 19th Century Denmark. Written for the screen and directed by Gabriel Axel, the film is a look into a woman with a mysterious past that decides to take action in the hopes of bringing people together to celebrate the 100th birthday of their late yet beloved pastor. Starring Stephane Audran, Birgitte Federspiel, Bodil Kjer, and narration by Ghita Norby. Babette’s Feast is an evocative and enchanting film from Gabriel Axel.

The film follows the life of two sisters and their French housekeeper who lived together for fourteen years when the latter had been taken in despite the fact that the sisters had no money. During their time as the sisters are running their father’s congregation with the remaining villagers left in their small village, their housekeeper plans to create a feast to celebrate what would’ve been the 100th birthday of the congregation leader. Gabriel Axel’s screenplay opens with the story of these two sisters in their youth where they are both pursued by different suitors who visit their small village but both women would stay with their father and later run his congregation. The story then shifts to thirty-five years later where the Frenchwoman Babette (Stephane Audran) has arrived based on the recommendation by a former suitor of one of the sisters who has left France due to a conflict in the country. The story would move fourteen years where Babette receives a letter from home as it would be a brief trip where she would return with ideas for a grand feast for the sisters and the villagers.

Axel’s direction is understated in terms of its setting as well as not going for any kind of stylistic shots to go for something simple and to the point. Shot on location in the small town of Lonstrup in Denmark, Axel would use wide shots to get a scope of the locations as well as some of its surroundings including its seaside cliffs and the oceans. Yet, much of what Axel would do is maintain an intimacy with its close-ups and medium shots where the film opens with Philippa (Bodil Kjer) and Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) is holding a congregation meeting with its small villagers while Babette would serve them food. The flashbacks of the sisters when they were younger as it’s told by Ghita Norby’s narration to play into the world they could’ve been in with Philippa being courted by an officer and Martine by an opera singer due to her voice. Axel would show why the sisters chose to stay as it relates to their father and the congregation that he is leading in this small yet fruitful community.

The tone of the film would change upon Babette’s arrival as she would eventually learn how to speak Danish as well as things do lighten up until Babette has to return to France briefly where a soup that she’s known to make that is recreated by the sisters isn’t as good. It would lead to the third act where Babette returns from France with a bevy of things as it relates to the film’s climatic feast. The attention to detail into what Babette would create in her feast is engaging where Axel is fixated on all of the ingredients she’s bringing in as well as the preparation for the entrees she’s making. The dinner which would include a couple of major guests as there’s a sense of apprehension from Philippa due to a surreal dream she had about what she and the guests will eat. Once the guests would get as their feast, something magical happens as it play into the unexpected as well as the familiar. Overall, Axel crafts a ravishing and sumptuous film about a French housekeeper and the feast she makes for her mistresses and their guests.

Cinematographer Henning Kristiansen does brilliant work with the cinematography with its usage of natural lights for many of the interior/exterior scenes in the village with a few artificial lighting for a few scenes in the places outside of the village. Editor Finn Henriksen does excellent work with the editing as it has some unique rhythmic cuts to play into a few scenes of Babette cooking or in moments that play into the lives of the two sisters. Production designer Sven Wichmann does amazing work with the look of the home that the sisters live in as well as the houses in the village and the interiors of the rich places that the suitors of the sisters lived in.

Costume designer Annelise Hauberg does fantastic work with the costumes from the plain and colorless dresses of the villagers to the colorful look of the officer’s uniform. Sound mixer Hans-Eric Ahrn does superb work for the sound in creating a natural mix of sounds to play into the atmosphere of the village and its surroundings as well as the climatic dinner scene. The film’s music by Per Norgaard is wonderful for its low-key orchestral score that has elements of opera and traditional religious music that play into the world that the characters live in.

The film’s incredible cast include some notable small performances from Gert Bastian as a poor villager who loves Babette’s soup, Pouel Kern as Philippa and Martine’s father, Hanna Stensgaard and Vibeke Hastrup in their respective roles as the younger versions of Philippa and Martine, Thomas Antoni as a Swedish lieutenant, and Bibi Andersson as a Swedish courtier that would introduce General Lowenheilm to his wife. Jean-Philippe Lafont is superb as the opera singer Achille Papin as the man who courts Philippa as he hears her voice and later send Babette to her and Martine. 

Jarl Kulle is fantastic as General Lorens Lowenheilm as a man who falls for Martine as he would see her years later in attending the feast. Bodil Kjer and Birgitte Federspiel are amazing in their respective roles as Philippa and Martine as two sisters who run their father’s congregation as well as dealing with its dwindling followers and reluctantly give Babette the chance to create her feast. Finally, there’s Stephane Audran in a phenomenal performance as Babette as a woman who becomes the housekeeper for two sisters where she would create food that would be extraordinary and wanting to return the favor to the sisters by creating a feast that would become an once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Babette’s Feast is a sensational film from Gabriel Axel. Along with its incredible cast, gorgeous visuals, sumptuous music, and images of delicious food, it’s a film that explore what an ordinary woman could to help two old ladies and a village in giving them something that is extraordinary. In the end, Babette’s Feast is a spectacular film from Gabriel Axel.

© thevoid99 2018


Anonymous said...

In many ways it's such a small little film but made with so much love and talent it shines through and you can't help but admire it.

Chris said...

oh man, you can taste the food in this film, almost. To me, it's about the joy of new people pushing you into new experiences. Glad you enjoyed it too.

thevoid99 said... is and it's such a gem that it makes you wanting to eat all of that food.

@Chris-I found myself very hungry during the feast and was like "man, you're never going to have this every day and wow..." What a film.