Baby butts are really funny. That is one thing I took from the documentary Babies, directed by Thomas Balmés and produced by Alain Chabat. Babies simultaneously chronicle the lives for four babies from different parts of the world from their “first breaths through their first steps.” The babies are Ponijao in Namibia; Bayarjargal in Mongolia; Mari in Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie in San Francisco.
Babies is so beautiful and so adorable that you can watch it just for the eye candy. But by placing these four babies side by side during the same stages of development, we see just how similar babies are although their cultures and surroundings are vastly different. While Nattie in San Francisco attends a play group that sings about honoring mother earth, Ponijao in Namibia is rolling around in the dirt tasting rocks. While Mari in Japan is scared of the animals at the zoo, Bayarjargal in Mongolia is feeding the goats in his yard. Yet they all get frustrated when things don’t go their way and they all coo when their mothers talk to them in high pitched, monosyllabic banter.
Balmés and Chabat do a good job of making the mundane things that babies do entralling. Perhaps watching Mari learn how to put a stick through a shape wouldn’t be as interesting if she wasn’t presented next to Ponijao learning how to balance a can on her head. A baby’s ride home from the hospital for the first times sounds pretty uneventful. But when Bayarjargal’s mother takes him home tightly bundled and on the back of her husband’s motorcycle, it is striking to see just how relaxed the rules are in some places regarding babies and transportation.
Babies manages to be engaging and insightful all without a single interview bite or voice over line. And it doesn’t need it. No matter what languages the parents speak in, babies’ babble is universally cute. The pace of this film is patient and the cuts minimal – allowing the viewer to really see the babies’ thought processes unfold. I missed this movie in theaters (I was busy tending to my own babies at the time). But the On-Demand version did not disappoint. It featured a “where are they now” mini-doc at the end of the movie in which the director returned to show the stars (now four years old) and their families the final versions of the film. Despite their differences in family structure, abode structures, adult oversight and outdoor activity, they all turned out to be happy, healthy toddlers.