Because of my interest in parenting and families, I was recently invited to a screening of "Babies," a documentary produced by Focus Features.* French filmmaker Thomas Balmes and his French producer, Alain Chabat, tracked four babies in four different countries from birth to about 18 months. Watching a wordless 79 minutes of film about babies from around the globe doesn't sound like something you would rush out to see. You would make a mistake if you miss it.
"Babies" is gripping, adorable, often times funny, and always exquisite. The families live in economically and socially diverse countries: Japan, Namibia, Mongolia, and the United States. In the most beautiful ways, "Babies" underscores that having and raising a child is a universal experience whether you live in "the bush" or in an apartment overlooking San Francisco Bay.
Parents respond in much the same manner to their growing offspring; the babies act and react in strikingly similar ways. When one baby attempts to take a plastic bottle from his older sibling, the sibling strikes back; the crying and vying for supremacy rings true for anyone anywhere who has watched two young children at play. We witness this sibling rivalry in a tribal village in Opuwo, Namibia.
As the four babies develop, they are nurtured and cared for by their mothers in like fashion while adhering to the cultural norms of their country. The babies take to the bath: in America in a shower, in Mongolia in a basin with a goat stealing a drink until shooed away by mom. They crawl and learn to walk with the same trial and error and eventual success. When one baby throws a fit because her toy is too difficult to master, we understand the frustration of all babies learning to master their world. What comes through is the universality of children's developmental paths.
Only music and gorgeous photography, no words, relay the emotional connections of parent to child. It is, as the director and producer say, a "wildlife film of human babies." "Babies" will be released in theatres on Mother's Day. You can get a taste of it at http://filminfocus.com/focusfeatures/film/babies/, but you'll want to see every minute.
*Disclosure: I do not know anyone involved in the film and have no interest or gain in its success or failure.
Copyright 2010 Susan Newman