Babette’s Feast


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At once a rousing paean to artistic creation, a delicate evocation of divine grace, and the ultimate film about food, the Oscar-winning Babette’s Feast is a deeply beloved treasure of cinema. Directed by Gabriel Axel and adapted from a story by Isak Dinesen, it is the lovingly layered tale of a French housekeeper with a mysterious past who brings quiet revolution in the form of one exquisite meal to a circle of starkly pious villagers in late nineteenth-century Denmark. Babette’s Feast combines earthiness and reverence in an indescribably moving depiction of sensual pleasure that goes to your head like fine champagne.

Picture 8/10

Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast makes its North American Blu-ray debut from The Criterion Collection, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The high-definition transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.

Darker scenes look noisy but past this I found the digital transfer to be a rather gorgeous looking one. There’s a wonderful sense of depth to the image, with stunning detail and clean edges. Motion is natural and clean, while colours manage to pop from the screen, despite the scheme being limited to drab browns and grays. As mentioned previously there’s some noticeable artifacts in sequences, but it rarely calls attention to itself, and the image is free of more glaring issues like edge-enhancement and banding. Looking quite filmic, with excellent rendering of grain and an almost spotless print, it’s a striking presentation.

Audio 8/10

The Danish/French lossless 2.0 DTS-HD MA track offers a remarkable audio presentation for a quiet, lower key film. The film’s opening sequences present a fair amount of activity in the surrounds, through the film’s own music or through the parishioners singing in their village church. Dialogue, limited to the fronts, is crisp and sounds natural, and the track presents no background noise or damage of note. It’s a lively and engaging track.

Extras 8/10

Babette’s Feast features quite a bit of supplemental material, opening with a short 9-minute interview with director Gabriel Axel. He talks about how his wife first showed him the story and his work in getting funding for it (he received a lot of “no” responses by the sounds of it.) From here he talks about the food, actually having the food that appears prepared, and its success in the States, recalling a funny moment where, after winning the Oscar for Best Picture, he was approached about making a sequel. Axel’s blunt and funny and I wish his segment was actually longer.

Stephan Audran then talks about the film, going over her performance as Babette and then into an extraordinary amount of detail about her costume and the film’s costumes in general. She explains that there was difficulty getting funding, but the fact that Out of Africa (which was also based on a story by Karen Blixen) won an Oscar suddenly made it much easier. She then fondly recalls the positive reactions the film received during its run. At 24-minutes it’s an incredibly in-depth interview.

A 26-minute visual essay by Michael Almereyda and narrated by Lori Singer called Table Scraps goes over the story and film, beginning with the genesis of the story (it was written because of a bet) while also examining Blixen’s other works and aspects of her personal life, including how her syphilis impacted her life. It also looks at the film’s presentation of religion (which is ultimately not important) and the importance of food in the film. Overall I could give-or-take this one, which has some interesting observations about the film, but it ultimately, for me, came off bloated and unnecessary.

Criterion then includes the 90-minute 1995 documentary Karen Blixen—Story Teller, which, through archival footage of the author/baroness and interviews with surviving friends and family, presents a portrait of the complex and endlessly interesting woman. It’s a fairly straightforward documentary, following your standard biographical format, going over her early life, getting into more personal details (her sex life, or lack of it, by choice mind you) and her works. With plenty of anecdotes about her the documentary offers an intimate examination of the woman and her work.

Criterion then presents an interview with sociology professor Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson under the feature An Artist of the Everyday, where Ferguson goes over the importance of food in French culture and covers a basic history of the origins and development of French cuisine over the centuries, which became a fine art. She also talks about historical aspects mentioned in the film, and goes over the Café Anglais, which plays a significant if indirect part in the film. She looks at how Americans have viewed French cuisine over the years and then talks a little about Babette’s Feast itself. It’s an interesting little primer on French cuisine for those not all that familiar, and worth watching. Plus anyone that can fit in a quote from Ratatouille is alright in my book.

The disc then closes with a rather bland theatrical trailer that is made up of stills and critic blurbs.

Criterion then includes a thick booklet featuring an excellent essay on the film and the story Mark Le Fanu, followed by a reprint of the original story by Karen Blixen (as Isak Dinesen) as it appeared in a 1950 issue of Ladies Home Journal.

It doesn’t look like a lot but Criterion has packed on quite a bit of great material on here covering the film and the story on which it is based.


An impressive special edition, Babette’s Feast comes with a strong transfer and a mostly intriguing set of supplements. It comes with a high recommendation.


Directed by: Gabriel Axel
Year: 1987
Time: 103 min.
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 665
Licensor: Astrablu
Release Date: July 23 2013
MSRP: $39.95
1 Disc | BD-50
1.66:1 ratio
French 2.0 DTS-HD MA Surround
Region A
 New interviews with director Gabriel Axel and actor Stephane Audran   Karen Blixen—Storyteller, a 1995 documentary about the author of the film’s source story, who wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen   New visual essay by filmmaker Michael Almereyda   New interview with sociologist Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson about the significance of cuisine in French culture   Trailer   A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Mark Le Fanu and Dinesen’s 1950 story