Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Gabriel Axel|
|Produced by||Just Betzer
|Screenplay by||Gabriel Axel|
|Story by||Karen Blixen|
|Narrated by||Ghita Nørby|
|Music by||Per Nørgård|
|Editing by||Finn Henriksen|
|Distributed by||Orion Classics (US)|
|Running time||102 minutes|
|Box office||$4,398,938 (US)|
Babette's Feast (Danish: Babettes gæstebud) is a 1987 Danish drama film directed by Gabriel Axel. The film's screenplay was written by Axel based on the story by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). Produced by Just Betzer, Bo Christensen, and Benni Korzen with funding from the Danish Film Institute, Babette's Feast was the first Danish cinema film of a Blixen story. It was also the first Danish film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (January 2012)|
The elderly and pious Christian sisters Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kjer) live in a small village on the remote western coast of Jutland in 19th-century Denmark. Their father was a pastor who founded his own Christian sect. With their father now dead, and the austere sect drawing no new converts, the aging sisters preside over a dwindling congregation of white-haired believers.
The story flashes back 49 years, showing the sisters in their youth. The beautiful girls have many suitors, but their father rejects them all, and indeed derides marriage.
Each daughter is courted by an impassioned suitor visiting Jutland – Martine by a charming young Swedish cavalry officer, Lorens Löwenhielm, sent to stay with his aunt in Jutland for the summer to correct bad behavior. Philippa is pursued by a star baritone, Achille Papin, from the Paris opera, on hiatus to the silence of the coast.
Thirty five years later, Babette Hersant (Stéphane Audran) appears at their door. She carries only a letter from Philippa's former suitor, the singer Achille Papin, explaining that she is a refugee from counter-revolutionary bloodshed in Paris, and recommending her as a housekeeper. The sisters take Babette in, and as their cook for the next 14 years, she serves as 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 of 10,000 francs. Instead of using the money to return to Paris and her lost lifestyle, she decides to spend it preparing a delicious dinner for the sisters and their small congregation on the occasion of the founding pastor's hundredth birthday. More than just a feast, the meal is an outpouring of Babette's appreciation, an act of self-sacrifice; Babette tells no one that she is spending her entire winnings on the meal.
The sisters accept both Babette's meal and her offer to pay for the creation of a "real French dinner". Babette returns to Paris to arrange for supplies to be sent to Jutland. The ingredients are plentiful, sumptuous and exotic, and their arrival causes much discussion among the villagers. As the various never-before-seen ingredients arrive, and preparations commence, the sisters begin to worry that the meal will become a sin of sensual luxury, if not some form of devilry. In a hasty conference, the sisters and the congregation agree to eat the meal, but to forego speaking of any pleasure in it, and to make no mention of the food during the dinner.
The final part of the film is the preparation and the serving of Babette's banquet, lavishly deployed in the unadorned austerity of the sisters' rustic home. The film, previously showing mainly whites and grays, gradually picks up more and more colors, focusing on the various and delectable dishes.
Martine's former suitor, Lorens, now a famous general married to a member of the Queen's court, reappears as one of the guests with his aunt, the local lady of the manor and a member of the old pastor's congregation. He is unaware of the other guests' austere plans, and as a man of the world and former Attaché in Paris, he is the only person at the table qualified to comment on the meal. He regales the guests with abundant information about the extraordinary food and drink, comparing it to a meal he enjoyed years earlier at the famous "Café Anglais" in Paris.
Although the other celebrants refuse to comment on the earthly pleasures of their meal, Babette's gifts breaks down their distrust and superstitions, elevating them physically and spiritually. Old wrongs are forgotten, ancient loves are rekindled, and a mystical redemption of the human spirit settles over the table.
The sisters assume that Babette will now return to Paris, and when she tells them that all of her money is gone and that she is not going anywhere, the sisters are aghast. Babette then tells them that dinner for 12 at the Café Anglais has a price of 10,000 francs. Martine tearfully says, "Now you will be poor the rest of your life", to which Babette replies, "An artist is never poor."
- Stephane Audran as Babette Hersant
- Bodil Kjer as Filippa
- Birgitte Federspiel as Martine
- Jarl Kulle as General Lorens Löwenhielm
- Jean-Philippe Lafont as Achille Papin
- Bibi Andersson as Swedish courtier
- Ghita Nørby as Narrator
- Asta Esper Hagen Andersen as Anna
- Thomas Antoni as Swedish lieutenant
- Gert Bastian as Poor Man
- Viggo Bentzon as Fisherman in Rowboat
- Vibeke Hastrup as Young Martine
- Therese Hojgaard Christensen as Martha
- Pouel Kern as The Minister
- Cay Kristiansen as Poul
Blixen's original story takes place in the Norwegian port town of Berlevåg, a setting of multi-colored wood houses on a long fjord. However, when Axel researched locations in Norway, he found the setting was too idyllic and resembled a "beautiful tourist brochure." He shifted the location to the flat windswept coast of western Jutland and asked his set designer, Sven Wichmann, to build a small grey village resembling a one-horse town. Mårup Church, a plain Romanesque church built around 1250 on a remote seaside cliff near the village of Lønstrup, was used as a backdrop.
Axel altered the setting from a ship-filled harbor to fisherman's rowboats on a beach. He said the changes would highlight Blixen's vision of Babette's life in near complete exile.
"There is a lot that works in writing, but when translated to pictures, it doesn't give at all the same impression or feeling. All the changes I undertook, I did to actually be faithful to Karen Blixen." – Gabriel Axel
The Nordisk Film production company suggested the cast of Babette's Feast should include only Danish actors in order to reduce production costs. However, Axel wanted Danish, Swedish and French actors to play the roles for the sake of authenticity. Axel was supported by the Danish Film Institute's consultant, Claes Kastholm Hansen, who also agreed the cast should include international stars.
The title character of Babette was initially offered to Catherine Deneuve. Deneuve was interested in the part but was concerned because she had been criticized in her past attempts to depart from her usual sophisticated woman roles. While Deneuve deliberated for one day, Axel met with French actress Stéphane Audran. Axel remembered Audran from her roles in Claude Chabrol's films Violette Nozière and Poulet au vinaigre. When Axel asked Chabrol (her former husband) about Audran's suitability, Chabol said Audran was the archetype of Babette. Axel gave the script to Audran, told her that Deneuve was contemplating the role, and asked her if she might be able to respond before the next day. Audran called two hours later and said she wanted the role. The following day, Deneuve declined and Audran was officially cast.
Two other major parts were the characters of the elderly maiden sisters, Phillipa and Martine. Phillipa, the once-promising singer, was portrayed by Bodil Kjer, considered the first lady of Danish theater and namesake of the Bodil Award. Birgitte Federspiel, best known for Carl Dreyer's 1955 classic film Ordet, was cast as the staid, love forlorn, Martine.
The role of the Swedish General Lorens Löwenhielm, the former suitor of Martine, was accepted by Jarl Kulle and the Swedish Court Lady by Bibi Andersson. Both had achieved international recognition as two of Ingmar Bergman's favorite actors, appearing in many of his films.
The group of elderly villagers was composed of Danish actors, many of whom were well known for their roles in the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer. These included Lisbeth Movin as the Old Widow, Preben Lerdorff Rye as the Captain, Axel Strøbye as the Driver, Bendt Rothe as Old Nielsen and Ebbe Rode as Christopher.
The popular Danish actress Ghita Nørby was cast as the film's narrator. Although production consultants complained to Axel that the use of a narrator was too old-fashioned, Axel was adamant about using one. He said it wasn't about being old-fashioned but only about the need: "If there is need for a narrator, then one uses one."
Babette's Feast received mostly positive reviews.
Awards and accolades 
Babette's Feast won the 1987 Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. It also won a BAFTA Film Award for Best Film Not in the English Language and was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Language Film. It won both the Bodil and Robert awards for Best Danish Film of the Year. The film was nominated for the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association.
- Babettes gæstebud (Babette's Feast) at Box Office Mojo
- "Babette's gæstebud". Danish Film Institute.
- "Festival de Cannes: Babette's Feast". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-07-20.
- Karen Blixen, Anecdotes of Destiny and Ehrengard, "The Diver," "Babette's Feast," "Tempests," "The Immortal Story," "The Ring" (New York: Random House; London: Michael Joseph, 1958); Skæbne-Anekdoter (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1960)
- (Mørch 2008, p. 403)
- Nielsen, Bent (30 September 2008). "Kirken på kanten synger på sidste vers" [Church on the edge sings the last verse]. Kristeligt Dagblad.
- (Mørch 2008, p. 403) translated from "Der er meget, der fungerer på skrift, men når det blive overført til billeder, giver det slet ikke samme indtryk eller følelse. Alle de ændringer, jeg foretog, gjorde jeg faktisk for at være tro mod Karen Blixens."
- Mørch, Karin, Gabriel's Gæstebud: Portrait af en Filmmager, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, (2008) p.410
- (Mørch 2008, p. 410)
- (Mørch 2008, p. 411)
- (Mørch 2008, p. 412)
- Piil, Morten, Bodil Kjer Danske Filmskuespillere, Gyldendal, (2001), pg 230-235
- "Jarl Kulle", Filmography, Ingmar Bergman Foundation, ingmarbergman.se, retrieved 28-05-2009
- "Bibi Andersson", Filmography, Ingmar Bergman Foundation, ingmarbergman.se, retrieved 28-05-2009
Further reading 
- Curry, Thomas J. (2012) "Babette's Feast and the Goodness of God," Journal of Religion & Film: Vol. 16: Iss. 2, Article 10.http://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol16/iss2/10/
- Goodwin, Sarah Webster. "Knowing Better: Feminism and Utopian Discourse in Pride and Prejudice, Villette, and ‘Babette’s Feast,’." Feminism, Utopia, and Narrative (1990): 1-20.
- Podles, Mary Elizabeth. "Babette's Feast: Feasting with Lutherans." The Antioch Review (1992): 551-565.
- Schuler, Jean. "Kierkegaard at Babette's Feast: The Return to the Finite." Journal of Religion and Film 1.2 (1997).
- Wright, Wendy M. "Babette's Feast: A Religious Film." Journal of Religion and Film 1.2 (1997): 1.
- Babette's Feast at the Internet Movie Database
- Babette's Feast at AllRovi
- Babette's Feast at Box Office Mojo
- Babette's Feast at Rotten Tomatoes
- An extensive collection of links about Babette's Feast at KarenBlixen.com
- Babettes gæstebud at the Danish Film Institute (in Danish)
- Voted #3 on The Arts and Faith Top 100 Films (2010)