Quantcast
subscriber help

artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Babies (review)

Planet Earth’s Home Movie

It’s high time the tiniest people got a movie of their own. Because even movies about babies are never really about babies but about the grownups who want to have babies or don’t want to be saddled with babies, or about small children who don’t like having their places of privilege usurped by even smaller children, or about doctors who think they’re gods because they give women babies through modern science, and so on. But what do the babies think of this new life thing that is thrust upon them without so much as a by-your-leave?
Here, in Babies, from French documentarian Thomas Balmes, we get the world from the perspective of babies, or as close as we’re likely to get in that preverbal period of human life. Balmes “auditioned” pregnant mothers around the globe, seeking four who would be willing to share the first year or so of the lives of their impending infants. The genders of the babies were not known at this point, but it’s sort of nicely unironic that Balmes ended up with three girls — Ponijao, in rural Namibia; Mari, in bustling Tokyo; and Hattie, in San Francisco — and only one boy: Bayarjargal, in nomadic Mongolia. Because there are slightly more girl babies born every year than boy babies.

The mothers’ faces are almost absent, except when they occasionally bob into the babies’ views; dads rarely appear. Okay, that’s not quite a baby’s perspective, who always have a grownup face popping into their own to babble or coo or laugh or talk. But Balmes’ camera mostly stays on the babies’ faces as they open up to the world around them; we see arms holding them, hands helping them, and so on, but not much else. The voices they hear of the adults around them remain untranslated: babies don’t get any help understanding what they’re hearing, and neither do we. (There is, refreshingly, no narration to get in the way of what we can plainly see is occurring onscreen.) The babies simply soak in the ambiance, learning and growing, and so do we.

Ah, and here’s the “terrible” secret of Babies: it’s not really about babies, either. It’s about the universalities of human life across cultures that unite us, and about the differences that make us, well, different, too. (It’s like a home movie for the human race.) Some babies in some places get gentle scolding about not hitting other people, while others interact almost violently with their siblings. Some babies in some places live in almost antiseptic environments, while others are happily allowed to eat dirt just to see what it tastes like. Some babies live in places where they’re handled like fragile eggs, while others ride home from the hospital on motorcycles — helmetless! And they all manage to end their first years healthy and happy.

What’s universal? Love. Tolerance (much of it exuding from pet cats and dogs who patiently allow the infants to pull their ears, yank their fur, and drag them around). Joy. Oh, but this is a joyful film, a wonderfully charming portrait of what may be the most basic thing about being human: discovering that you’re human in the first place.

The babies themselves? Adorable. Simply delightful to spend 90 minutes with. Life-affirming: you may not want to run right out and acquire one yourself, but surely you’ll find a lovely reminder of what a treasure it is to see the world through new eyes.


MPAA: rated PG for cultural and maternal nudity throughout

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
explore:
| |
  • I’m looking forward to this one, though I’ll probably wait for NetFlix. The trailer I saw a few months ago put a chink in my “never wanna have kids” armor. I’m curious what effect the entire film will elicit.

  • Almost forgot: maternal nudity? Allll right!

  • Kenny

    Actually MaryAnn, there are roughly 105 boys for every 100 girls born across the world.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sex_ratio

  • nnvee

    I saw the trailer. It was adorable.

  • markyd

    but but but….it’s about…babies! How could this possible get a green light? babies! smelly, noisy, time-sucking…babies!
    I get that this is different than a typical hollywood depiction of babies in movies. I actually kinda like the idea behind it. Still…
    I’ll trust you on this MaryAnn, but I’ll most likely never see it.

  • I’m looking forward to seeing this at some point.

    I just read this fascinating article about infant morality. I wonder if there’s any evidence of that in the movie, if the viewer is looking for it.

  • MaryAnn

    but but but….it’s about…babies! How could this possible get a green light? babies! smelly, noisy, time-sucking…babies!

    But they’re other people’s babies! Other people’s babies that you spend only 90 minutes with at their most cutest. You don’t have to change their diapers.

  • MaryAnn

    Actually MaryAnn, there are roughly 105 boys for every 100 girls born across the world.

    Oops! I guess the genders of the babies depicted is actually ironic then.

  • MaryAnn

    I just read this fascinating article about infant morality. I wonder if there’s any evidence of that in the movie, if the viewer is looking for it.

    The Mongolian baby has an older brother (around 3 years old) — and yes, their interactions sometimes have a clear moral dimension.

  • bronxbee

    more boy babies are born, but fewer of them survive their infancy, which is why the general population is about 51% female and 49% male…

  • MaSch

    I just flipped a coin four times, and got 3 heads and one tails.

    How do I decide if it’s ironic, unironic or ironically unironic? (Please note that “irony” is a something Alanis Morissette introduced me to …)

  • Ben

    Definitely looking forward to seeing this one. It looks great from the trailer and your review is even more encouraging.

  • amanohyo

    I thought the movie made a nice point about the relative value of water in the different cultures and it was cool to see actual personalities develop in the babies. That Mongolian kid in particular gets himself into all kinds of crazy situations.

    It would have been cool to see some middle eastern, south american, and/or Indian babies as well, but I guess that’ll have to wait for the sequel. So much of what is done for babies in the two wealthier nations is really all about satisfying the mothers. It was hilarious to see little Hattie desperately trying to exit the room where that horrible Mother Earth singalong was taking place.

    Also, I cannot believe how good humored and friendly all the animals were. I knew some pretty mean goats when I was a kid, and none of the cats I know would stand for the kind of rough treatment that’s doled out in the movie.

  • JoshB

    It was hilarious to see little Hattie desperately trying to exit the room where that horrible Mother Earth singalong was taking place.

    I was in pain during that song, and then the kid made a break for it and I regained hope for humanity.

    The Mongolian baby has an older brother (around 3 years old) — and yes, their interactions sometimes have a clear moral dimension.

    I loved the bit where the elder brother whips the younger with a peace of cloth for the benefit of the camera. He’s all “See! I made him cry! Isn’t it awesome?”

Pin It on Pinterest