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. 8/10