Babette’s Feast (1987) – Ace Mini-Review

Ace review #50!

Babettes gæstebud (Babette’s Feast)
Starring: Stephane Audran, Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel
Book by: Karen Blixen
Written & Directed by: Gabriel Axel
Denmark, 1987

How good is this movie?

A gem of slow, careful filmmaking. The story is simple, without major twists or complications, but it is all shot with exquisite beauty. The spiritual thesis is not deep, but it is not meant to be; it is a simple message for simple people. Much more so than other movies, this is very much a work of art – as finely and beautifully crafted as the titular dinner.

How ace is this movie?

The movie revolves around celibate women, although in all cases their celibacy contains an element of sorrow. Babette is a widow. Martine and Filippa both had suitors in their youth whom they failed to marry. This is at least partly because of their conservative Protestant upbringing. Their father saw them as destined for God’s work, and does not seem to have considered that they might have needs and desires apart from that. It is even implied that Filippa sent her suitor away because she was afraid of her sexual feelings for him. However, while their resulting spinsterhood may be sad, the film does not present heterosexual marriage as the only path to happiness. Lorens, who falls in love with Martine at first sight, is clearly selfish in his desire, and his vision of a better, purer life is shallow. Achille, who is attracted to Filippa for her voice, is equally shallow. Moreover, the spinsters’ lives are not empty or meaningless; on the contrary, they are revered by their community for their good works. At the same time, the film is nothing less than a love story. It’s not a sexual love story but it is… fleshly. Its theme is the artist’s love of her art, and the deep, primal need at the heart of every artist to create a true masterpiece. The masterpiece that Babette creates in the film’s last half represents the joyful, prodigal, rapturous outpouring of her spirit, in a love that is at once deeply selfish and completely selfless. The preparation, presentation, and consumption of each dish is shown in such loving detail that it can only be described as “food porn”. It is a celebration of the sensual that is deeply erotic and yet transcends sexuality.

4 Stars; 3 Aces

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