BabiesBy Karen Wilson
MPAA Rating: PG for cultural and maternity nudity throughout
Release Date: May 7, 2010
Running Time: 1 hour and 19 minutes
Plot Synopsis: Documentary crews follow the first year of life for four different babies living in different parts of the world.
Sex/Nudity: As each of mother nurses her baby we see many naked breasts, though not in any kind of sexual context. Particularly in the portion shot in Namibia where the cultural dress does not include covering over the chest, there are many exposed breasts.
Violence/Gore: Very minor moments of aggression from the babies, like when one bites another in Namibia or another baby falls over into the sand after rolling off a playground slide.
Which Kids Will Like It? Very young children love identifying the other babies in the room, though it's hard to know if a documentary will hold their attention. Baby-sitting age girls and boys will probably find the babies' antics fun viewing.
Will Parents Like It? For parents who miss watching their own kids in those early stages of life, they'll love cooing over the first steps for these little ones.
Kaboose Review: We live on a big planet, a fact that's often easy to forget in our busy day-to-day lives. But as diverse as life is throughout the world, there are certain commonalities everywhere, particularly in the first year of life. A team of French filmmakers sought to capture those similar -- yet unique -- early days in four babies lives for the new documentary, Babies.
Over the course of nearly two years they documented the growth of four families in Namibia, Japan, the United States and Mongolia, witnessing small adventures like their first crawls, haircuts, playgroups, and baths. It's a sweet, contemplative movie that makes you think about the wonder of young children and new life.
The style of Babies is very observational and nonjudgmental--there's no music except during the end credits and hardly any dialogue. If we hear any of the parents speaking to the children it's not subtitled, and even the section filmed in San Francisco is mostly nonverbal. In a way this makes the viewers experience not unlike a baby's, we can only look and absorb without really processing or understanding all of the cultural significance at work. Babies does not seek to educate the viewer about adult life in these various communities and there is no real political, economic or social context established for any of the families. A baby sitting with its mother on the dirt floor of his hut in Opuwo, Namibia is given the same treatment as another baby playing in a high rise apartment in Tokyo.
Of course the real purpose of watching a documentary about babies is to get some good footage of babies doing cute stuff, and on that front, Babies delivers. Many of the subjects have animals around, particularly house cats, and watching the animals docilely submit to the petting of the earnest babies is adorable.
Some of the movie's later scenes that show the triumphs of standing up, walking or peeling your own banana are also charming. The movie also shows some of the sibling rivalry that many new babies encounter. The baby in Mongolia has an older brother who seems less than enamored with his family's new addition. In one scene, he even wheels his baby brother in his stroller out of the family's hut into a grazing field and a whole herd of cattle surround the unsuspecting newborn. You can't help but wonder if moments like this broke the filmmaker's objectivity and distance from their subjects. Let's hope they at least thought to call the parents over to rescue the little one.
Directed by: Thomas Balmès
Cast: Ponijao (baby in Namibia), Mari (baby in Japan), Hattie (baby in USA), Bayarjargal (baby in Mongolia), Tarererua and Hindere (parents in Namibia), Seiko and Fumito (parents in Japan), Susie and Frazer (parents in USA), Mandakh and Purev (parents in Mongolia)
Movie poster courtesy of Focus Features.
Karen Wilson is a freelance writer living in New York City.