Babies Thomas Balmes

Babies Thomas Balmes
From what I can gather, the motivations behind making Babies, a French documentary that details the journey of four infants across the world, from birth to first steps, is to show both the universality of human instinct and the diversity of childrearing methods across cultures.

Expanding on this and praising the genius of such a venture and its revelations of human truths certainly seems like the appropriate thing to do. But, in all honesty, the idea is kind of obvious and watching it is slightly less entertaining than hand washing dishes.

Of particular tedium are the babies from Tokyo and San Francisco, Mari and Hattie, respectively, whose introduction and experience in the world are similar to that of most Western children, aside from the obnoxious hippie development classes the San Fran family insists on partaking in. Since there is no voiceover, narrative or adult involvement, we spend our time watching these babies sit in strollers, quietly eat bananas and stare at domesticated pets.

Slightly more interesting are Ponijao from Opuwo, Namibia and Bayarjargal, near Bayanchandmani, Mongolia. The Namibian infant is given the most affection and family time of the bunch, as almost every scene shows the child with its mother and siblings, sucking on stray bones and occasionally finding amusement in her own genitals.

In Mongolia, Bayarjargal spends most of his early life tied to a bed, where the only entertainment is the occasional stray rooster, or unattended roll of toilet paper. Once older, the child is often left with calves or goats that mostly treat it like one of the herd. Because of its uniqueness, this storyline is by far the most intriguing to watch.

Filmed with precision and carefully unobtrusive, Balmes's mainstream doc is nothing if not consistent and true to its vision. It's just a shame that vision is far less dynamic in reality than in conception. At the very least, I can say that the image of a woman holding her breast like a pastry bag and squirting breast milk on a screaming baby's face (on the big screen, no less) will stay with me forever. And may have left some psychological scarring. (Alliance)