Babette’s Feast (1987): Denmark Gabriel Axel’s Winner of the Best Foreign Language Oscar, Starring Stephane Audran

The surprise winner of the 1987 Best-Foreign Language Oscar, Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast is a quiet and subtle film, featuring the most unlikely characters to turn a movie into an international success: Old Danish residents in a far remote town in the 19th century!

However, it’s the subject of food, and showing an erotically charged feast to end all feasts, that endeared this deeply felt movie over to audiences.

Narrated by Ghita Norby, the film opens with a flashback, depicting the frustrated love lives of Hastrup and Stensgaard, the daughters of a minister in a small town on Denmark’s rugged Jutland peninsula.

The saga then shifts to 1871, as the title character Babette Hersant (French actress Stephane Audran), whose husband and son were killed during the Paris Commune, arrives from France and enters the employ of the sisters, who are carrying their father’s ministry.

After years of service with the sisters, Babette wins 10,000 francs in the French lottery and decides to use all the money for the preparation of a sumptuous banquet in honor of the minister’s 100th birthday.

At first, the stoic town folks are reluctant to participate in the banquet, but ultimately, they joyously indulge in Babette’s feast. It’s then revealed that once upon a time she was the chef of the famous Café Anglais in Paris.

A gentle film, that depicts cooking as an art form, Babette’s Feast is an upbeat movie, despite the austerity of the characters and their surroundings.

The entire ensemble is excellent, beginning with vet Ingmar Bergman actors Bibi Andersson, as Swedish Court Lady-in-Waiting, and Jarl Kulle, as the old man Lorenz Lowenhielm.

Other distinguished performers include Brigitte Federspiel (better known for “Ordet”) as Old Martha, Jean-Phillippe Lafont (“Bizet’s Carmen”), as Achille Papin.

Reportedly, the story on which the film is based was the product of a bet between its author Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen, portrayed by Meryl Streep in the Oscar-winning “Out of Africa”), and a friend who suggested that the best way to win over the American movie market was by writing about food.

They were right, as other movies about food, such as Ang Lee’s indie “Eat Drink Man Woman,” the Mexican “Like Water for Chocolate,” and the German “Mostly Martha,” demonstrated later with their impressive commercial appeal.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Foreign-Language Film

The competition in this category in 1987 was tough, and Louis Malle’s French Oscar submission, “Au Revoir, Les Enfants,” was expected to win.

Oscar Awards:

Foreign-Language Film

Credits:

Denmark (Panorama Film International production in cooperation with Nordisk Film and the Danish Film Institute).

Running time: 102 Minutes.