Dir: Thomas Balmès
I have to admit I find babies both creepy and fascinating. They are completely helpless, can’t walk and make a lot of noise, but when you look into their eyes you can see some kind of intelligence swirling around in there. Yet we live in a world that seems convinced that everyone loves babies.
The idea behind Babies is a simple one: film the first year of life of four infants living in unrelated parts of the world like San Francisco, Tokyo, Mongolia and Namibia. Leave out narration and just show the babies doing what they do best- acting like babies. But like an overly eager new parent sharing page after page of photos of their newborn, the fascinating parts of Babies are weighed down by too much of the same thing.
Directed by Thomas Balmès, Babies eschews narrative arc altogether, cobbling together sequences that are out of time chronologically and held together only by the assumption that babies all do the damnedest things. Even the obvious socio-economic divide between the upbringing of Hattie and Mari vs. Ponijao and Bayarjargal barely weighs on the lightweight film, which like its title, does little more than try to be lovable.
The Mongolia and Namibia scenes are definitely more interesting than their American and Japanese counterparts. Rather than feature gag-worthy children and mommy workshops singing hymns to Mother Earth or gaggles of Japanese woman pushing tuckered out tykes in prams while rattling on about God-knows-what, Balmès camera not only perfectly captures the stark Asian and African landscapes, but preserves on film some images nothing short of amazing.
And that is the saving grace of Babies, for every 10 scenes of Hattie’s obnoxious Bobo mamma reading a baby psychology book, you get one priceless sequence that only an unscripted baby could pull off. Take, for example, a moment when Bayarjargal is happily bathing in a deep bowl in the window of his Mongolian home. Moments later, a goat strolls over to the window and begins to drink from that same bowl until the parents chase it away. Moments such as this, and a handful of others, can be considered clips of cinematic majesty. Too bad they are masked by other trite moments, such as Hattie learning to peel a banana.
I do wonder if I was a parent myself, Babies would fascinate me more. But I have to shake away that notion. I am not a parent, but the Up series amazes me. I am not a huge animal enthusiast, yet I think Grizzly Man may be the film of the last decade. There is too much excess in Babies to truly enjoy its scattered moments of brilliance. Unfortunately, I am too much of an adult to throw a temper tantrum during the boring parts.