One year in the lives of four babies around the world - Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo and San Francisco - from birth to first steps.
Review by Louise Keller:
We know children and animals are scene stealers. That's why some of the scenes in Babies, which includes animals are the film's highlights. Like the moment when a baby in Africa responds in kind when a friendly dog licks him or a thirsty goat slurps the bathwater in Mongolia. Other animal moments include a rooster jumping next to the resting baby, a cat's ears being dramatically pulled and more. Everybody loves babies and this sweet documentary takes a look at four of them - from vastly different cultural backgrounds for the first year of their lives. It's fascinating, often funny and above all, cute.
Although filmmaker Alain Chabat came up with the idea for this insightful look at the development of babies in Namibia, Mongolia, Japan and the United States, it is Thomas Balmès who has directed the film. Much patience must have been needed to wait for those priceless, telling moments that exemplify the babies' environments and their responses to everyday issues.
We meet the four mothers with their baby bumps and share with them the different states of their babies' development. There's a stark contrast between the little blonde baby girl in San Francisco, whose life experience is buffered by society and doting parents and the mischievous little baby boy in Mongolia who gleefully unravels a toilet roll, munching it enthusiastically. His little ankle is tied to the leg of the bed to give him freedom to move but stay safe from the hot stove.
Play is structured for the baby girl in Japan, whereas the baby cherub in Africa chews on a bone she picks up from the dirt, paints herself and her siblings for entertainment and has a suckle of encouragement from her mother's dangling breast when learning to walk.
We watch the babies sleeping, smiling and crying. They all have fat cheeks, rosebud lips and button noses. For some, there is sibling interaction (and competition). We see curiosity at work -the African baby points to her brother's penis before looking at her own genitalia, hidden by a modesty cloth. In Japan, there's frustration when the plastic toys do not do what is required.
There's fear too, when faced with wild animals at the zoo - separated only by a pane of glass. Crawling, the precursor to walking takes place in shopping malls, on wooden floors, the grass of the open plains and in the red dirt. The result is the same with the babies walking, hesitantly at first, then with confidence.
There is no narration or linking dialogue as the camera shifts from the different places and countries. With deft editing, we journey back and forth sharing the first 12 months with each child. What impact does the environment have on each baby? That is the intriguing question and as we observe and decide for ourselves, we are reminded of the priceless gift of life that begins in the cutest of packages.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As you might expect, Babies has a high cute factor, showing us babies from birth across the world - well, four points of it, each a different culture. In African Namibia, Asian outback Mongolia and in urban Tokyo, and in Western San Francisco, we meet four babies, and glimpse their mothers. In San Francisco, we also see signs of a New Age father, and in Tokyo, the odd shot of dad - otherwise, it's all about the bubs.
There is no narration and the only dialogue we hear is distant, unimportant, off-stage, as it were. We see the little shoots of human life in swaddling, in nappies and in their natural nakedness. They pull the ears of the pet cat, goat and explore the mouth of their dog. They spill things and get frustrated with toys before they can co-ordinate their muscles.
There are temper tantrums and sibling spats, and while some of it has the comic effect of a candid home video, the cumulative effect is to impress on us the universality of baby behaviour, amidst the great range of cultural variations. Every baby has the same response to foreign objects and to sibling rivalry; every baby has the same inquisitive nature and every baby wants the comfort of mother.
In the end we realise this is humanity at its most homogenous; we begin to go separate ways only when our surrounding culture shoves us into its own strictures.
Filming the footage was painstaking and took patience to ensure there was enough material for the editors to work with; ultimately, it's their film, Reynald Bertrand and Craig McKay, who shaped and paced the film. There are short stretches that drag, but overall, they've managed to juxtapose scenes that complement each other and keep us engaged.
Published August 31, 2011
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BABIES: DVD (G)
CAST: Documentary featuring Bayar, Hattie, Mari, Ponijao
PRODUCER: Amandine Billot, Alain Chabat, Christine Rouxel
DIRECTOR: Thomas Balmes
SCRIPT: Thomas Balmes
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jérôme Alméras, Frazer Bradshaw, Steevan Petitteville, Eric Turpin
EDITOR: Reynald Bertrand, Craig McKay
MUSIC: Bruno Coulais
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jill Coulon
RUNNING TIME: 79 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 5, 2011
SPECIAL FEATURES: The Babies - Three years on; trailer
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
DVD RELEASE: August 31, 2011