Sunday, October 6, 2013

Cutest Documentary Ever: Babies.

Movie Review: Babies

Director: Thomas Balmes

Reviewed: 6 October 2013

jamesintexas rating--***1/2

Babies are cute. And regardless of where a baby grows up, there are certain touchstones that are elemental to being human. Learning to walk and cry. Learning to feed. Seeing the world around you with curious eyes. Playing. Laughing. Moving. Imitating.

Thomas Balmes's 79 minute documentary Babies features four babies from San Francisco, Namibia, Mongolia, and Tokyo. There is no narration, and the adults are often cropped out of the shots, providing a baby-focused view on their world. I laughed often and engaged with this film on an emotional level, as Balmes structures the film loosely. Sometimes a link from one scene to another (one baby to another) is a simple movement or action. There is a small focus on parenting, as we see the San Francisco parents taking their child to Baby Yoga, playgrounds and parks, and reading books together. Balmes contrasts this style with the female-centered communal rearing of Namibia, where the men are never seen, and a community of women work together to raise their children.

Balmes refuses to provide subtitles for scenes, so we only have the babies as focus. There are really no direct interviews with the camera or bold cuts back and forth. A room full of toys in San Francisco is juxtaposed against a baby crawling through a Mongolian field. As a document of life and babyhood, Babies exists as a wonderfully fun discussion-starter. Some of its shots of babies interacting with animals made me wonder how they even made this film. I wonder what the parameters were in terms of filming. I mean, when do you step in and prevent a goat from drinking out of the bath water tub while a baby sits inside of it? Were the filmmakers ever allowed to step in and interrupt the process? What if a baby was in harm's way?

The film offers many observations and questions, but its structure is both limiting and freeing. A choice at the end to show us what the babies look like now is pretty fun. I wonder though in ten years how these four children will have diverged in terms of life paths, interests, and education. In terms of degree of difficulty, I give Balmes high marks. However, I wonder, what is he trying to say? There is no doubt though that these babies are loved and exploring their worlds. Some day, they will watch this film. What will they think?

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