November 29 1, 2010 -- The idea behind this movie is simple. You have camera crews document the lives of four babies, one in San Francisco, one in Namibia, Africa, one in Tokyo and one in Mongolia, from the time they are born to the time they start to walk. Then you gather up all that film, or digital media, and edit it down to a fairly concise 79 minutes of the most interesting images, add some music, and voila, you've got a neat little movie. You have a film filled with cute kids and cute animals, mothers and fathers interacting in interesting ways, and a demonstration of some cultural differences, too.
The film shows the birth and early development of Hattie, of San Francisco, Ponijao, of Namibia, Bayarjargal, of Mongolia, and Mari of Tokyo. Despite the huge cultural differences, all these kids do similar things and they interact with other kids in similar ways. This shows the universality of the human condition, something that some people have no trouble accepting, but others deny vehemently (such as those “us versus them” people who foster hatred, oppression and war). At the same time, the film shows vast differences in the way children are raised.
In modern societies, in this case America and Japan, babies are monitored closely and live in controlled environments, while in Namibia and Mongolia, the babies have more freedom to roam and explore. These babies play in environments that the western babies are not typically exposed to, at least not at this age. They play outdoors on grass and dirt. They are exposed to animal dung and a variety of domestic animals, cows, goats, dogs and cats (western babies are also exposed to dogs and cats, of course). They pick up dirty objects off the ground and put them in their mouths. Western parents tend to try to prevent their babies from this kind of germ-filled environment. Some western parents try to keep the baby's environment as antiseptic as possible. Interestingly, recent research indicates that exposing babies to the kind of outdoor environments seen in Mongolia and Africa actually promotes a healthier immune system in a child than an overly sanitized environment. Indeed, the African and Mongolian babies seen in the film are just as healthy as their Western counterparts.
Some of the funniest scenes in the film involve the babies interacting with animals, dogs, cats, goats, cows, etc. In one scene, a goat drinks out of tub of water in which Bayarjargal is bathing just inside a yurt doorway in the trackless steppes of Mongolia. The mother, offscreen, shoos the goat away. In other scenes, babies play with the paws, mouths and ears of dogs and cats. The dogs and cats are remarkably patient with the babies, as if they know just how to behave with young children. One baby ties a cord around the neck of a cat and drags it around on the floor. The cat doesn't seem to mind this uncomfortable position. The babies also get into trouble at times. Sometimes children hurt each other, which leads to fighting, crying, and other universal behaviors.
The DVD of Babies (from Focus Features) also includes a short follow-up feature which finds all four babies growing up and doing fine three years after the initial film was shot. It also shows the reaction of the parents of the children when they see the movie. Another feature shows still pictures and videos of babies sent in by viewers for a contest. The film is directed and co-produced by documentary filmmaker Thomas Balmès and is based on an original idea by producer Alain Chabat. The film was originally released in France, but is universal since there is almost no dialogue in it. The original language of the film simply doesn't matter at all. This film rates a B.
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