Tracking four babies from different cultures during the first two years of their lives, French director Thomas Baimes documents the universality of human development and socialization as these tiny creatures discover and explore the world around them.
There’s Hattie, born in San Francisco, and Mari, born in Tokyo, Japan. They’re first-born children whose hectic, middle-class, urban lives are filled with educational paraphernalia and playgroups. In contrast, there’s Ponijao, the ninth child born into a matriarchal society in the flatlands of Opuwo, Namibia, and Bayar, the younger of two children born to Mongolian herders, living in a portable yurt near Bayanchandmani. Their sparse dwellings and rural families would be considered impoverished by Western standards. Obviously, this cross-section of humanity was chosen to represent various socio-economic strata and ways of life.
Chronologically delineated, these infants share the experience of being born, nursing, sleeping, bathing, playing, and learning to walk and to communicate with those around them – but in vastly contrasting circumstances. For example, Hattie’s dad showers with her, while Ponijao’s mother licks her clean.
Scriptless and dialogue-free – with music appropriate to the situation – there’s no explanatory narration. Shooting for 400 days over two years, the filmmakers simply chronicle what happens in completely divergent environments, leading to the inevitable conclusion that, wherever they live, babies seem to grow up happy as long as they are loved.
In the press notes, producer Alain Chabat reveals, “I dreamt of a movie theater audience that would applaud because a baby would stand on their own two feet. These tiny things are huge adventures for them – and we’ve all been through that, though, of course, most of us can’t remember. I felt we could show the commonalities as well as the differences between these babies.” And that’s what happens. Yet having some commentary to accompany the absorbing imagery and to give it some context might have made it so much more compelling. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Babies” crawls in with an observant, if simplistic 7, making pop human anthropology delightfully unpredictable, engaging and photogenic.