Yesterday I finally saw Thomas Balmes' documentary Babies, which I have been looking forward to since seeing its trailer in theaters last year. I am definitely a baby-person, so the perfect audience for this, but I really do think the value of the film is much greater than just cooing over the adorable stars.
Following about the first year in the lives of Hattie (San Francisco), Ponijao (Namibia), Mari (Tokyo), and Bayar (Mongolia), Babies is a story told without narration, allowing the viewer to observe the milestones in each child's life. Balmes has made it clear that he did not intend to present the children in the style of a nature documentary, but that he wanted to use the footage to tell his point of view.
Perhaps different viewers' perspectives will elicit different meanings from the film. The baby-averse may see this as a cautionary tale about birth control, while new parents might tremble at all the potentially dangerous situations the babies get into. My parents who watched it with me (perfect Mother's Day bonding activity) loved reminiscing about their babies' behaviors from decades ago. As for me, I found it to be a wonderful commentary on culture. The babies are born into different cultures, and we can observe how that affects their upbringing. But in terms of babies being babies, all four children are exactly the same. They cry, they play, they poo, they investigate, they smile, and they grow. No matter how different things are in rural Namibia versus bustling Tokyo, it is the same momentous accomplishment when the kids learn to stand up on their own two feet.
That is what is so beautiful to me about babies, and Babies. Every person lucky enough to survive infancy and be healthy, has shared the same universal experiences of articulating their first words, learning to feed themselves, and finding their balance when tottering by on two shaky little feet. Yet for each baby, and each parent, it is a watershed event, an unforgettable milestone as important as if every other baby hadn't also accomplished the same. I wouldn't be as interested in following up with the babies ten years from now when they are socialized as products of their culture. It would be interesting, but it wouldn't have the same impact as watching their infant sameness does.
Also, the kids are just so seriously adorable.