Two Stars – Wholesome
The inspiration for this film is a fascinating yet simple idea that director Thomas Balmes gives credit to producer Alain Chabat. He thought that it would make an intriguing study to follow four babies from birth to their first year of age in four very divergent cultures. With virtually no dialogue, filmmakers take us inside the homes and very private moments between parents and children as they take their first meal to their first steps.
By interweaving their lives, the film makes it clear that wherever a baby is born and however dissimilar their surroundings, they are far more alike than different. From sibling interactions to parental humor to first words and first steps, these little ones of four different races share a common humanity.
Ponijao, in the isolated village of Opuwo, Namibia, lives in a hut made of wood and thatch. Crawling on a dirt floor without diapers with a mother who is ready at all times to breastfeed, Ponijao is intrigued by the flies and the dogs that share his world. Playing with sticks and stones and crawling in streams and mud, Ponijao is joyful and loved.
Mari is born in Tokyo, Japan. Living in a high-rise apartment above the beauty of the city, Mari has all the luxuries of Japanese technology, playing with cell phones and computers in the clean world of modern life. Joining in the social structure of mothers and children, Mari is a part of an orderly society with doting parents.
Bayar is the child of Mongolian goat herders living in barren Bayanchandmani, Mongolia. Swaddled tightly in a papoose of blankets, Bayar rides home from the clinic in the arms of mom on the back of her father’s motorcycle. Like Ponijao, Bayar is surrounded by animals and shares her bath and her playtime with her father’s goats and cattle. Full of smiles and enjoying crawling through the grass, Bayar learns about life.
Hattie enters the world in San Francisco, California. With parents who value “mother earth” as sung in the song they sing with her in a group playtime, Hattie nevertheless lives isolated from the natural world. Unlike Ponijao and Bayar, the dirt and mess are far removed as the vacuum and lint remover are part of Hattie’s normal life. But with her cat nearby, Hattie is given love and care as books are read and adventures are shared in her urban world.
A slow-moving film that won’t be enjoyed by all, “Babies” presents a slice of humanity that allows us all to understand just a little bit better the life we all share.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The opening scene when Ponijao and his brother share the normal sibling interactions sitting on a dirt floor pounding rocks as toys is priceless. How do you see Ponijao’s siblings being similar or different than Bayar’s?
2. The lack of dialogue makes this film all the more interesting. How do you think it would have changed had they chosen to do a voice-over?
3. When children are born into such different educational opportunities, as shown by the advantages seen in just the beginning of life for Mari and Hattie, how can children like Ponijao and Bayar compete?