Let me be clear. I’m not into cutesy stuff. You try baby talkin’ to me, I will probably punch you. I don’t fall for awwwjerking entertainment.
But I love cute babies and Babies (opening today, limited release) has four of them. Producer Alain Chabat, who came up with the idea, and director Thomas Balmès documented the kids from birth to first steps by letting the camera observe them in their natural habitats with no interference (which gets a little nerve-wracking sometimes).
The cast: Ponijao, a Namibian girl; Bayarjargal, a boy from Mongolia; Mari, a Japanese girl, and Hattie, a girl from San Francisco. There’s hardly any dialogue or music; adults are practically extras. The babies are the main attractions and they are enough to carry the movie.
My favorite segments are with Bayar, the adventurer who roams free on all fours among cows and goats, and Ponijao, who loves sticking everything in her mouth, including a bone of unknown origin found in the dirt. Mari has one of the funniest scenes in the movie, throwing herself on the ground in fits of despair when she can’t figure out the concept of simple toys. Surprisingly, the parts with Hattie are least engrossing, though it’s no fault of hers. Because her American upbringing is so familiar—playgrounds, Kindermusik-type lessons, parents reading parenting books—her experiences offer no new insight.
Watching these babies discover the world is a delight, even if it was difficult at times to see Ponijao and Bayar surrounded by flies. I wanted to reach through the screen and wipe their faces, yank out things that shouldn’t be in their mouths. But whether crawling in dirt naked or being carted around in strollers, the babies are much more resilient than we give them credit for, and they don’t need fancy trappings in order to thrive. Bayar looks elated eating toilet paper, while Ponijao finds wonder in licking a dog. And can you remember when your own feet fascinated you? Director Balmès doesn’t try to hit us over the head with any kind of statement; for me, Babies was a simple reminder that no matter how we were raised, we were born strong and can find joy anywhere.
Now excuse me while I go play with my toes.
Nerd verdict: Fun to watch Babies
Photos courtesy Focus Features