New film offers outlook on life, culture, and diapers
Although movie stars like Johnny Depp are revered for their versatile acting abilities, no one could make yawning, crying, or even urinating as worthy of an "Ooo," or "Aww," as the four infant stars of Thomas Balmes' new film, "Babies."
"Babies" follows the first two years of life for four infants from the four corners of the planet. The documentary gives insight to the extreme cultural differences that each child is raised under, without leaving out all of the cutesy moments for those looking to see some hilarious childhood incidents.
It begins with the birth of the four children: Ponijao of Namibia, Bayarjargal of Mongolia, Mari of Japan, and Hattie of San Francisco.
It quickly becomes clear that the film is on the road to being a ninety-minute global home video, uninterrupted by dialogue or subtitles to decipher native tongues. The only sounds are fragments of music and sporadic screaming or crying courtesy of the rowdy tots.
Seeing as the stars of the film have minimal bearing on language themselves, it serves well for the film to be presented as a documentary sans commentary, giving a true glimpse into what their experience is like.
As the first months progress, each child exhibits the same short list of capabilities that babies have: rolling around, staring into space and drooling.
The year goes on and the children learn to speak, dance, and develop into what they are: tiny human beings, each living unique and environmentally influenced lives. The message within the film becomes clear as slivers of each child's life are juxtaposed to examine each family's different approach to child rearing.
In one segment, Ponaijo's mother wipes the baby's bottom with her knee and then scrapes off the excess excrement with a dried corncob. The little girl is also seen licking her pet dog's tongue and is covered in flies while her mother pays no heed.
The neglect of strict hygiene by Ponaijo's mother is compared to the life of Californian-born Hattie, who is at the opposite end of the spectrum. In one scene her father vacuums the carpet she is perched on and then afterwards takes a lint roller to the baby from head to toe.
Hattie is seen rejecting her banana while seated at the dinner table as Bayajargal roams the cattle field outside of his hut in the nude while his mother sorts through the organs of a slaughtered goat.
The film exhibits many clips like these of each child's differing routines. It shows that regardless of the similar canals we enter the world through, the road for each of us diverges, resulting in a wide range of lifestyles.
For those who shiver at the thought of wide-eyed, slobbering infants, this movie will most likely provide nothing but a headache, especially during the first few weeks after its release. The theater seats are bound to be filled with no less than a dozen restless babies providing boisterous feedback.
To appreciate "Babies," one need not be a parent or even enjoy fawning over infants. The film's style allows for it to be seen as either a simple feature length version of America's Funniest Home Videos, or an insightful cross-cultural examination of parenthood.