Once again, I’ve been hesitant to start a film based solely on the somewhat selfish reason that I figured I’d be bored out of my mind watching it. Nothing about Babette’s Feast seemed at all appealing to me; really, the only thing it had going for it, for me, was that it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and indeed it was the first Danish film ever to win. Then, today, I saw the headline: the director, Gabriel Axel, has passed away. It seemed the appropriate time to finally sit down and force myself through this one; if not now, then when?
Two sisters, the daughters of a Danish priest, grow up in a somewhat isolated town on the coast of Denmark, where their religion is above all other importance in their lives, including the attentions of two men who wish to court them. Opting instead to devote themselves to religion and their father, the girls spend their lives in the small community, their father passing as the years go by. Some time later, a woman named Babette shows up at their door, and offers to become their housekeeper. She works for no wages, but happens to win a lottery in Paris of 10,000 francs, which she decides to use to prepare a “real French dinner” for the sisters and the town, which secretly doesn’t sit well with the devoutly religious folk and their denial of all earthly delights and temptations. I’ve seen a number of reviews around calling this one of the best food films ever made, and to that I can agree. Despite my misgivings going into it, misgivings that seemed to be justified by the drab and cold production design and cinematography of the first half of the film, this ended up being a very warm and lovely film, owing much to the excellent decision to turn the cold and drab look of the first half slowly into a room rich with warmth and color during the feast itself. There really isn’t much to this film, but it still holds a subtle but powerful effect, made no more apparent than in the villagers’ initial attitude towards the feast juxtaposed by their reactions after the character of the general gets them to realize exactly how special this feast really is.
Now, despite the fact that I was suitably moved by the end of the film, I still can’t ignore that it was relatively slow throughout the entire running time, and thus it will likely be just as hard for the average moviegoer to get into it as it was for me to at first. That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t end up liking this. It’s sweet, and it has by far one of the most endearing endings of any film I’ve seen from the list thus far. You just feel better after watching it, almost as if you had taken part in the eponymous dinner yourself. It almost feels obvious or redundant to say, but that may very well have been the point. Gabriel Axel, if for nothing else, you will be happily remembered for this one.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10