Combustible Celluloid
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With: Stephane Audran, Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel, Jarl Kulle, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Bibi Andersson, Ghita N┐rby, Asta Esper Hagen Andersen, Thomas Antoni
Written by: Gabriel Axel, based on a novella by Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dinesen)
Directed by: Gabriel Axel
MPAA Rating: G
Language: Danish, French, Swedish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 102
Date: 05/01/1987

Babette's Feast (1987)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Food Piece

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Gabriel Axel's 1987 delightful feature, based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, may be the first great "food movie" of modern times. Babette (Stephane Audran) is a Frenchwoman who comes to live with and work for two elderly spinster sisters, Filippa (Bodil Kjer) and Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) who have always lived simply and meagerly in their remote Jutland village. When Babette wins the lottery, she wishes to use the money to prepare a magnificent, French feast.

Director Gabriel Axel relishes the preparation, handling, and consuming of the beautiful food, but the masterstroke comes in the drama; the guests are not supposed to be enjoying such luxurious cuisine, which makes them (and us) enjoy it all the more. Incredibly, this wonderful little film beat out Louis Malle's powerful Holocaust drama Au Revoir Les Enfants for the 1988 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

In 2013, the Criterion Collection released beautiful new DVD and Blu-ray editions, gorgeous enough to make you smile. Extras include new interviews with director Gabriel Axel and star Stephane Audran, a visual essay by Michael Almereyda (narrated by Lori Singer), and a 1995 documentary on the author Isak Dinesen, a.k.a. Karen Blixen. There's also a featurette about the importance of food in French culture, and a trailer. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by film scholar Mark Le Fanu and Dinesen's great 1950 story. (It's worth seeking out more Dinesen stories, including "The Immortal Story.")

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