Mark Reviews Movies

BABIES

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Thomas Balmes

MPAA Rating: PG (for cultural and maternal nudity throughout)

Running Time: 1:29

Release Date: 5/7/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 6, 2010

Fulfilling the tenant of truth in advertising, there are indeed babies in Babies. They coo and crawl and cry and cuddle with cats. They poo and pee and protest their playthings. They feed, fight, and frolic. They gurgle and grow. They are babies doing the things babies do, and they do those things for 80 minutes.

Babies relies entirely on the cuteness factor of its tiny stars (Even the tagline says so; after all, "Everybody loves…"), and there's no denying how adorable the four newborns of the movie are. They come from four different walks of life, or perhaps three if looking at population factors and only two if observing familial economic status. Director Thomas Balmes' clear intention, through his constant use of montage, is these kids are really just part of one group, as though we need reminding that these babies, eliminating the identity of location and class, are members of the human family.

There's Ponijao, born in a small village outside of Opuwo, Namibia.

Mari grows up in bustling Tokyo.

Bayar is raised on a farm outside of Bayanchandmani, Mongolia.

Hattie lives in San Francisco.

Whatever other information one might like to find out about them, such as, for example, that Ponijao and her family are members of the Himba tribe or that Hattie's parents consider themselves green (as in ecologically aware, not new, although both are technically true), can be found at the movie's website. Balmes isn't preoccupied with concepts like context. After all, there are all these lovable moments to capture.

Balmes has assembled little more than a well-edited collection of home videos, without the enjoyment/annoyance of constant parental commentary. There are collages of the mothers feeding their children, the little ones dozing off in different circumstances, and the families' cats (Was part of Balmes' "audition" for expectant mothers the requirement that the family have a cat?) undergoing various humiliations at the babies' curious hands. One strange juxtaposition shows Mari, Bayar, and Hattie playing with felines before cutting to Ponijao playing with flies. It's an odd cut because Ponijao later plays with one of the dogs in the village, which makes the selected footage for the family pet segment (cat, cat, cat, flies) feel false.

The process of bringing these four new lives together implies a broader concept than the resulting compilation projects. If this is, as it obviously is, a visual argument for the oneness of humanity in our first year (and hence a need for recognizing the unity of human beings in all the years that follow), the movie is too narrow in scope. Two toddlers from urban areas and two not, three girls and one boy, and entire continents unrepresented do not portray an accurate representation of all the wide social, economic, and terrestrial diversity the planet and its inhabitants have to offer.

Failing on that larger view simply because of its admittedly monumental difficulty, the only thing left are the smaller moments. The stars undergo an observable amount of development over the course of this year condensed to an hour and twenty minutes. Mari examines a puzzle toy and becomes frustrated (inconsolably so) when the pieces don't fit together. Bayar learns the hard way about an older brother's persecution. Hattie rebels against her father's attempt to bring her into a New Age day camp by running for the door, only to find she's too short to open it. Ponijao learns the difference between girls and boys. The movie refuses to end until all four take their first, unassisted steps.

These flashes of growth on a psychological, emotional, and physical level and Balmes' understanding of their importance by letting the shot go on past the identification of a cute behavior show what the movie could have been on a smaller scale. As it stands, though, the larger implications require that such activities be repeated by the other subjects, losing the sense of individual growth.

Balmes has the sincerest of intentions in Babies, and those, in addition to the battle between the shallow and the profound, lead it astray.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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