Babies: For Kicks and Giggles

By Noelle Buffam · May 10, 2010

Happy African Baby from Babies

I like babies just as much as the next girl. I really do. I like the little shoes, the fuzzy hair, and the way they get wrapped up like burritos, but 80 minutes of strictly baby action? I just didnt believe there was a baby interesting enough to fill up that kind of time (re: Chloe Bohne’s recent post). I was wrong. There’s not just one baby that interesting… there are four.

Babies, a documentary by Thomas Balm, is a feat within itself. There is no dialogue, no narration, and little plot direction. It is just an unbiased look at the first year of life. The concept is simple: four babies from four very different places. First we meet Ponjioa, a baby from the Himba tribe inNamibia. We then jump to Mari fromTokyo, then Bayarjargal from Mongolia, and finally Hattie from San Francisco. Their personalities make the film charming. They make you laugh. They make you cringe. They make you realize that human beings are really amazing creatures.

But the drooling, giggling subjects are not the only enticing aspects of the film. The experiences they go through are the real drive. Every audience member can relate to each experience. Your mother yelled at you for pouring a bucket of water on the floor. You, too, were hit repeatedly in the face with [insert object here] by your older brother. Although you may not remember your own trial, you no doubt have witnessed the frustration of trying to put the round toy through the intended round hole. Narration and dialogue are unnecessary in this film because you don’t need anyone to tell you what you should feel. You’ve already felt it.

Just as the universality is an important drive in the film, so too are the differences in culture. While Hatties parents read from a pile of parenting books ,a group of women watch over baby Ponjioaas she touches tongues with a stray dog. Yes, there are some scenes that would make most Americans shudder. I am guilty of squirming when Bayarjargal desperately attempts to hoist his naked body on top of a rusty barrel to evade a herd of rushing cattle. Regardless of the audience reaction, the film does an upstanding job portraying the differences in lifestyles in an unbiased way.

But trust me. You’ll leave the theatrea bit less disturbed that your kid ate a piece of gum from underneath a park bench the other day.

The film offers cute babies, cultural awareness, beautiful cinematography, and a look at the awe-inspiring nature of mankind. If that doesn’t sound like your thing, you can always go have a chuckle at the American couple they choose to chronicle. The new age couple is truly entertaining. Their life is punctuated with a naked, rooftop hot tub rendezvous (I’m sure their neighbors love them) and baby yoga classes. One of the favorite moments of the film happens at Hatties play class. Hattie sits with her dad in a friendship circle that is chanting “The Earth is Our Mother” over and over again. Hattie looks at the circle, stand sup, and walks out the door. Now that’s my kind of girl.

Babies delivers exactly what it promises. It interweaves the differences in the world that separate us with the universal human nature that connects us. The reason the film works is the same reason why people adore babies: it’s earnest, innocent, and completely charming.

4 Stars out of 5