"Babette’s Feast" is among the best movies ever made about food, and with this Criterion Blu-ray, you can really appreciate that fact. Set in a Danish village during the 1800s, the film follows the title character -- an older French woman -- as she settles into her new surroundings. A twist of fate leaves her at the mercy of two Danish sisters, and then another twist reverts financial stability back to Babette. But rather than run off with her newfound fortune, she chooses to stay -- and use the money to cook the best meal any of her new friends has ever had.
The film’s prologue sets it up as a Christian allegory, allowing us insights into the characters lives that are intended to help us better appreciate their sacrifices or decisions made later. But the real beauty of the film is in director Gabriel Axel’s loving compositions, which fetishize Babette’s meals in fascinating ways. His camera takes in every dish, circles around glasses of red wine, studies every single bowl of soup. And with the beautiful video transfer, the images look incredibly tactile -- a pleasing filmic texture resides over every shot, thanks to Criterion’s top-shelf image work.
Criterion has also given the film some first rate extras. It starts before you even turn the player on -- you get a large booklet containing essays from film scholars, and more importantly, Karen Blixen’s 1950 text from which the movie was sourced. They’ve also included video interviews with Axel, actress Stephanie Audran, and a number of documentaries of Blixen. Lastly, there’s a 20-minute retrospective alternatively studying French cuisine and "Babette’s" legacy.
It’s fitting. Watching the film again, it’s never as inspired, as invigorating, as elegant, as it is when it’s looking at food.