Do you ever find yourself in a funk for seemingly no reason? If so, I may have found the ultimate cure. Just turn on Netflix and search for a documentary called Babies. This French film, which was released in 2010 and directed by Thomas Balmes, has so many cute moments packed into its 79 minute run time that it’s sure to cheer just about anyone up. Even I, who decidedly finds children endlessly irritating, couldn’t help but be charmed by this little film. Babies takes us to four different places on the globe, and gives us a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ perspective of how children are reared, highlighting differences in culture, but most importantly, the similarities that connect us all.
The film follows four babies from the time of their birth until they are roughly one year of age. All the children come from very different backgrounds. There are two boys: Ponijao from Opuwo, Namibia and Bayarjargal from Bayanchandmani, Mongolia, as well as two girls: Mari from Tokyo, Japan and Hattie from San Francisco, USA. The film is absolutely gorgeous, full of rich colour, and breathtaking shots of urban and rural spaces. Since there is no narrator, there is really nothing to guide the audiences viewing experiences. The film lacks subtitles for any of the non-English languages spoken, and when you do hear English, a lot of it is fuzzy and in the background. You can occasionally make out phrases, but nothing other than simple chit-chat. This purposeful obscuring of dialogue is perhaps a tool to experience the world as these young children are, looking at everything with entirely new eyes, and not necessarily understanding everything about it.
The story of these children’s lives unfolds for us in a series of adorable montages. There are compilations of babies eating, playing, sleeping, and even a montage of babies playing with their cats (my favourite one by far). It was also amusing to watch the sibling rivalry that took place. It’s pretty funny watching Bayarjargal’s older brother mercilessly whacking him with a pair of pants until he starts crying…then waiting for him to stop so he can start all over again. It reminded me of the stories my mother would tell me about how the overwhelming jealousy over my baby sister was so great that I would smack at her any chance I got. While it certainly is not nice behaviour, it is common.
Watching the differences between these four incredibly different lifestyles is fascinating, but the film ultimately does not say very much. Balmes may believe his film says something about the universality of human love and behaviour, or the vast differences in our upbringing around the world, but the film just doesn’t bring much to the table other than it’s beautiful visuals and entertaining subjects. Perhaps if the film had any kind of explanation as to why certain things were happening, the audience could draw better conclusions. As is, it was difficult to tell if what we were witnessing was the norm for that culture or perhaps just for that family.
On top of this, although the film is a mere 79 minutes in length, it begins to drag about 2/3’s of the way through. After the first few sets of montages have run their course there is really nothing new to see and I found my attention wandering, simply hoping for something more stimulating to happen. Unfortunately, as a film that is based 100% around the audience’s observation, with no direct information being provided to us, even this short run time feels lengthy.
Overall, Babies is a fun film, but don’t pick it up if you are interested in learning anything about detailed childrearing practices in Namibia, Mongolia, Japan or the Western part of United States and the histories behind them. Babies is best consumed as a fluff piece for when you want to sit back and take in gorgeous imagery and the silly, heartwarming antics of children.