AWFJ Women On Film – “Babies” – Review by Susan Granger

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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.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.