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Bringing up Babies

Focus Features' Babies is arriving in theaters just in time for Mother's Day. With all the troubles in the world, don't you need a dose of cuteness in your life?


Just who is the audience for Babies, a 79-minute documentary about—what else—babies? Considering its release date, over Mother's Day weekend, it's no doubt aimed at all mommies and mommies-to-be.


Well, it turns out that the film, directed by Thomas Balmes and based on an idea by producer Alain Chabat, is an enjoyable affair, no matter your child status. Four babies, followed from their birth to age 2, are about as far removed from one another—geographically and culturally—as you can get. In Mongolia, there's the only little boy, Bayar; in Namibia, it's Ponijao; Mari is in Toyko, and representing the U.S., San Francisco's blond-haired, blue-eyed Hattie.


With no voiceover and little exposition, the film dives right into the lives of these tiny creatures. Watch as they sleep, eat, cry, crawl, play—all typical infant activities—albeit in some rather exotic locales, and with some rather unconventional parenting techniques (to Westerners anyway). Like, say, when Ponijao's mother bathes her little girl in red ochre and shaves her head with a knife, or when Bayar ventures out of the family yurt, crawling on his hands and knees in a vast, empty Mongolian landscape.


Jumping among four very different regions and parenting styles, the filmmakers seem content to let the images tell the narrative, such as it is. There's minimal dialogue and no subtitles; a bouncy score by Bruno Coulais (Coraline) serves as the main thread between the stories.


Yet the overarching theme is that no matter where a baby is born and raised, as long as it has a loving family—which, fortunately, all these little ones do—it will develop and thrive at a similar pace. And the likelihood of a calamity befalling a toddler is just as great on a playground in San Francisco as it is in a field of cows in Mongolia.



The very pregnant guest who accompanied us to the Babies screening came away feeling embarrassed about the depiction of new moms in America. She cited the coddling, the "Mommy and Me" classes, the sheer excess of stuff, especially when juxtaposed with the simplicity of the African Himba tribe.


But isn't that exactly the kind of mother who'll shell out for a sitter so she can go see a movie about other people's babies?


Babies is being released by Focus Features and opens Friday, May 7. For more photos and information, check out the official Focus Features website.



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