The Arts, the Senses, and the Imagination
GASTRONOMIC FILMS 1 -- BABETTE'S FEAST
by Robert Millar on November 25th, 2013

With the annual Thanksgiving holiday quickly approaching  here in the U.S.A., many of us find ourselves reflecting on the blessings that have graced us in the past year and looking forward to the fellowship and high spirits of the Thanksgiving feast. And whenever I hear the word feast these days, I am reminded of the handful of films that do full justice to its meaning. These are films that are not just depictions of the more hedonistic aspects of gastronomic enjoyment, but endeavor to explore the nourishing, nurturing, and symbolic aspects of food in our lives as well.
Topping my list of these films is the award-winning 1987 Danish drama, BABETTE’S FEAST, starring Stéphane Audran as Babette and directed by Gabriel Axel. The movie is based on a tale by the Danish author Isak Dineson (see photo at left). Isak Dineson was a nom de plume of the Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke  (née Karen Dineson), who assumed a man’s name to be taken more seriously in a literary world dominated by men. You may already have some knowledge of Karen Blixen if you have ever watched Sydney Pollack’s Oscar-winning 1985 film, OUT OF AFRICA, in which Meryl Streep played the part of Blixen and Robert Redford that of her great love, Denys Finch Hatton. That film was based on an autobiographical novel by Blixen. She is a master storyteller, and that asset is touched upon in OUT OF AFRICA in moments when she spontaneously improvises tales for Finch Hatton. 

As is the case with many of her stories, in BABETTE'S FEAST she very slowly weaves a spell over her reader, all the time keeping sight of the narrative architecture of her work. Some people tire of the leisurely pace of her narrative, but if they persist, in retrospect they find that there is a cleverly calculating mind behind her technique --- that all the twists and turns in her stories culminate in what turns out to be a well-thought-out, pleasing design. If you can remain patient and alert throughout  BABETTE’S FEAST, you may discover many valuable moments of significant wisdom and an unspoken message that resonates in the memory long after the movie ends.
The film is what I call a sleeper. By that I mean that for most of the movie the pace is quite slow  (almost painfully so).  There is minimal action, the color palette is muted, the musical score is very sparse, and there are lots of silences. Such austerity could be intolerably mind-numbing if it persisted without relief throughout the film. But both the film and the story upon which it is based are constructed in such a way that all of its rather bleak elements  lead in the end to a gentle climax which warms our spirits and lifts our senses out of their lethargy, leaving us feeling satisfied, a little buoyant, and perhaps even inspired.

Although BABETTE’S FEAST can be seen on You Tube, I cannot recommend any of the versions posted there as they are either broken up into a series of segments (ruining the continuity of the film) or have poor picture quality. Even the preview of the film available on You Tube gives one too much of the film beforehand, ruining any possible opportunities for personal discovery.  I would suggest going to the trouble of renting or buying a good DVD copy of the film and watching it without interruption. Some say that the Blu-ray version is particularly good. You should also know beforehand that the film has English subtitles.


Posted in DRAMA AND FILM    Tagged with BABETTE'S FEAST, drama, FILM, ISAK DINESON, OUT OF AFRICA, SYDNEY POLLACK, MERYL STREEP, ROBERT REDFORD, KAREN BLIXEN, DENYS FINCH HATTON


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