Local opening date: May 7, 2010
Reviewed by Diane Carson
In Babies, with a nonjudgmental, anthropological approach, French
documentarist Thomas Balmes chronicles the first year of life of four babies
from different countries. The four babies are: Ponijao in Namibia, Mari in
Tokyo, Bayar in Mongolia, and Hattie in San Francisco. No narrator provides any
context for the families or for their places within their respective societies.
And seldom do events place them in larger groups. Nevertheless, perhaps even
because of this focus on the babies' world, comparisons and contrasts come
across clearly even when nuances may be missed.
Thanks to illuminating
crosscutting, Balmes highlights the developmental similarities that unite the
four babies. These physical elements include eyes beginning to focus, learning
to crawl and stand, crying for attention, sleeping, smiling, playing and
responding to the immediate environment. But more fascinating than the shared
natural features are the strikingly different nurturing practices, even to
something as elementary as breast versus bottle-feeding.
Parents' hands-on or hands-off
socializing is informatively illustrated, and it speaks volumes. Mongolian
Bayar crawls over and pulls on the goats' hair and the cat's fur, through cattle
hooves, and inside and outside the yurt. Namibian Ponijao picks up a bone and
chews on it, plays in a shallow stream, and crawls through the very red dirt.
By contrast, San Franciscan Hattie has parents who clean her clothes with a
lint brush and Mari's Japanese parents bathe her so carefully, though they seem
nowhere around as she plays and throws a minor fit. Moments with the babies
reveal each culture's values and attitudes in fascinating detail.
Unfortunately, Balmes appends
cutesy, intrusive music to a few scenes. Much better editorial additions would
have been explanations about the diverse cultural practices, though the visual
choices certainly don't require analysis. Without question, Ponijao, Mari,
Bayar and Hattie live on the same planet but they certainly inhabit very
different worlds. As a bonus, director Balmes' careful observation invites all
of us adults to pay more attention to what we've come to take for granted,
nature or nurture. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac and Tivoli Cinemas.
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