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In 19th century Denmark, two adult sisters live in an isolated village with their father, who is the honored pastor of a small Protestant church that is almost a sect unto itself. Although they each are presented with a real opportunity to leave the village, the sisters choose to stay with their father, to serve to him and their church. After some years, a French woman refugee, Babette, arrives at their door, begs them to take her in, and commits herself to work for them as maid/housekeeper/cook. Sometime after their father dies, the sisters decide to hold a dinner to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth. Babette experiences unexpected good fortune and implores the sisters to allow her to take charge of the preparation of the meal.
For more about Babette's Feast and the Babette's Feast Blu-ray release, see Babette's Feast Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 5, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Gabriel Axel
Writer: Gabriel Axel
Starring: Stéphane Audran, Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel, Jarl Kulle, Bibi Andersson, Jean-Philippe Lafont
» See full cast & crew
Babette's Feast Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 5, 2013
Winner of Oscar Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Danish director Gabriel Axel's "Babettes gæstebud" a.k.a "Babbette's Feats" (1987) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include an original trailer for the film; video interview with actress Stephane Audran; documentary film focusing on the life and legacy of Danish writer Karen Blixen; new video interview with sociology professor Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson; and more. The release also arrives with an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Mark Le Fanu and Karen Blixen's 1950 story. In Danish and French, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
The time is the mid 1800s, the location is a small Danish village somewhere near the Jutland Coast. This is a quiet, peaceful place where life has a certain rhythm. Here people know and respect each other. They also keep an eye on each other – to make sure that no one makes mistakes that could disrupt the idyllic harmony of their little paradise.
A French woman, Babette Hersant (Stephane Audran, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, La femme infidele), arrives in the village with a letter from a famous singer (Jean-Philippe Lafont, Carmen). The letter is for Philippa (Bodil Kjer, Cop), whom the singer met years ago, and her sister Martine (Birgitte Federspiel, Ordet, Death Comes at High Noon), both unmarried. After they read it and learn that Babette's family was killed during the Revolution, Philippa and Martine welcome her in their modest home. Almost immediately, Babette begins cleaning and cooking for the sisters.
Eventually, embrace Babette as one of their own. They like how she always tries to get the best deal on the food she buys for the sisters, her tact and graciousness. Like Philippa and Martine, Babette also always tries to help those who might need help.
Life in the village changes dramatically when a second letter arrives from Paris, this time for Babette. In it a close friend informs Babette that she has won 10,000 francs in the lottery. Philippa and Martine immediately assume that their relationship with Babette has come to an end. However, much to their surprise Babette asks them for permission to prepare a delicious dinner to honor their late father and thank them for their kindness during the years. A week later, everyone in the village is invited to a "real French dinner".
Adapted from a story by Karen Blixen, Babette's Feast is a slow and rather subdued film about the way people connect and communicate in closed communities. It is also about passion and pleasure and the way people understand and respond to them. The film is set in the 1800s, but many of its observations are in fact still relevant today.
Babette's Feast begins with a rather long prologue that introduces the main characters and highlights events from their lives which later on will justify many of their decisions and actions. Before Babette's arrival, the focus of attention is primarily on the two sisters, Philippa and Martine, and their relationship with their father. The prologue also makes it clear that religion will have an important role in the film.
Babette's Feast has a lot in common with Italian director Marco Ferreri's legendary La Grande Bouffe. In the latter food consumption is also effectively used to produce fascinating observations about people who have isolated themselves and chosen to live their lives in a certain way. Unlike Babette's Feast, however, towards the end La Grande Bouffe becomes a seriously unsettling, even offensive film that hits hard some very specific targets. Babette's Feast heads in the opposite direction and ends on an optimistic note.
The actors are wonderful. Audran, who appeared in many of Claude Chabrol's best films, is terrific as the witty Babette. Federspiel and Kjer are equally impressive as the spinster sisters. Jarl Kulle is very convincing as the heartbroken general. Ingmar Bergman's favorite actress Bibi Anderson also has a memorable cameo in the film.
Babette's Feast was lensed by Danish cinematographer Henning Kristiansen (Henning Carlsen's Hunger, Laslo Benedek's The Night Visitor).
Babette's Feast Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Gabriel Axel's Babette's Feast arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray release:
"This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original 35mm camera negative at Nordisk Film ShortCut in Copenhagen. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI's DRS, while Image Systems' Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise reduction, jitter, and flicker.
Transfer supervisor: Lee Kline.
Colorist: Lee Cline/Criterion, New York."
The Blu-ray release represents a dramatic upgrade in quality over the old R1 DVD, but this shouldn't be too surprising considering the fact that the old DVD MGM produced wad a non-anamorphic transfer. Generally speaking, detail and clarity are very good. The majority of the close-ups boast excellent depth (see screencapture #2). The outdoor footage also impresses with good fluidity, especially where there is plenty of natural light. Contrast levels are stable. Color reproduction is also very pleasing, but I suspect that the reds and browns might have been slightly elevated. There are no traces of problematic degraining corrections. Edge-enhancement is also not an issue of concern. Some extremely light noise occasionally sneaks in, but few viewers, if any, will be able to spot its presence. Overall image stability is excellent. Also, there are no cuts, damage marks, debris, warps, or stains to report in this review. All in all, I think that this is a very pleasing and much needed upgrade of a beautiful film that should make a lot of its fans very happy. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Babette's Feast Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one standard audio track on this Blu-ray release: Danish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (with portions of French and Swedish). For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The dialog is crisp, clean, and stable. Dynamic movement is limited, but this isn't surprising because there are no large action scenes and Per Norgaard's music score isn't prominent. Also, it is obvious to me that the audio has been carefully cleaned up because there is absolutely no background hiss whatsoever. The English translation is excellent.
Babette's Feast Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Babette's Feast Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I think that it is absolutely impossible not to like Danish director Gabriel Axel 's Babette's Feast. It is a simple and very elegant film with plenty to say about the way people treat each other. For viewers currently on a diet, it could also be a very dangerous film. Criterion's technical presentation of Babette's Feast is very good. Also included on this upcoming Blu-ray release are a number of excellent supplemental features. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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The Criterion Collection has announced five titles for Blu-ray release in July. On July 9th, the studio will release Kenji Mizoguchi's The Life of Oharu. On July 16th, it will release Peter Brook's Lord of the Flies. On July 23rd, it will release Gabriel Axel's ...
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