Babette's Feast (Babettes gæstebud) is a 1987 Danish film written and directed by Gabriel Axel. The film is based on a story by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), who also wrote the story which inspired the 1985 Academy Award winning film Out of Africa. Produced by Just Betzer, Bo Christensen, and Benni Korzen with funding from the Danish Film Institute, Babette's Feast was the first Danish production of a Blixen story. It was also the first Danish film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
Next the film drops back in time to depict how each sister was, in her youth, a ravishing beauty. Each is courted by an impassioned suitor visiting Jutland: Martina by a charming but dissolute young officer of the Swedish cavalry, and Philippa by a melancholic star baritone from the Paris opera. Each suitor falls desperately in love, and develops grand plans both for himself and the "angel" he imagines by his side on the road to worldly renown. But each daughter eventually deflects her pursuer, choosing, instead, a life of quiet piety and Puritanical simplicity in their father's footsteps.
Many years later, when the sisters are in their fifties, Babette Hersant (Stéphane Audran) appears at their door. She carries only a letter from Philippa's former suitor, explaining that she is a refugee from revolutionary bloodshed in Paris, and recommending her as a housekeeper. The sisters take Babette in, and she spends fourteen years as their cook, a modest but benign figure who gradually eases their lives and the lives of many in the remote village. Her only link to her former life is a lottery ticket that a friend in Paris renews for her every year. One day, she wins the lottery and decides to use the money to prepare a delicious dinner for the sisters and their small congregation on the occasion of the founding pastor's hundredth birthday. More than just an epicurean delight, the feast is an outpouring of Babette's appreciation, an act of self-sacrifice with eucharistic echoes; though she doesn't tell anyone, Babette is spending her entire winnings on her gesture of gratitude.
The sisters agree to accept Babette's meal, and she sends for a sumptuous shopping list of ingredients (including a live sea turtle, quail, numerous wines, fine china and crystal) to her native France. But as they arrive, the sisters begin to worry that the meal will be, at best, a great sin of sensual luxury, and at worst some form of devilry or witchcraft. In a hasty conference, the sisters and the congregation agree to eat the meal, but to forego any pleasure in it, and to make no mention of the food during the entire dinner. The last and most relevant part of the film is the preparation of the meal itself, and the serving of an extraordinary banquet of royal dimensions lavishly deployed in the unpainted austerity of the sisters' rustic home. The film, previously showing mainly winterly whites and grays, gradually picks up more and more colours, focusing on the various and delectable dishes, a feast for the spectator as well. Although the celebrants do their best to reject the earthly pleasures of the food and drink, Babette's extraordinary gifts as a Chef de Cuisine and a true connoisseur, so characteristically French, breaks their distrust and superstitions, elevating them not only physically but spiritually. Old wrongs are forgotten, ancient loves are rekindled, and a mystical redemption of the human spirit settles over the table — thanks to the general elation nurtured by the consumption of so many fine culinary delicacies and spirits. The eucharistic, albeit mundane celebration around the table shadows the "infinite grace… [that] had been alloted to them, and they did not even wonder at the fact, for it had been but the fulfillment of an ever-present hope.
|Stéphane Audran||Babette Hersant|
|Hanne Stensgaard||Filippa (as girl)|
|Vibeke Hastrup||Martine (as girl)|
|Jean-Philippe Lafont||Achille Papin|
|Jarl Kulle||General Lorens Löwenhielm|
|Gudmar Wivesson||Lorens Löwenhielm (as young man)|
|Bibi Andersson||Swedish Court Lady|
|Bendt Rothe||Old Nielsen|
|Lisbeth Movin||The Widow|
|Preben Lerdorff Rye||The Captain|
|Axel Strøbye||The Driver|
|Erik Petersen||Erik, the boy|
|Ebba With||General's aunt|
|Pouel Kern||The Sister's father|
|Finn Nielsen||The Store manager|
|Asta Esper Andersen||Anna|
|Therese Højgaard Christensen||Martha, young girl|
|Tine Miehe-Renard||The General's wife|
|Thomas Antoni||Swedish Lieutenant|
|Gert Bastian||Poor Man|
|Tina Kiberg||Filippa's song voice|