The babies have come

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Ok, let’s go ahead and get it out of the way: you’re probably ALREADY sick of hearing about the Babies movie (remember when Ariel posted the trailer in December?). Some of you might have seen the subject of this and already clicked out, because those four babies are all over the media. I get it. I understand. But, you guuuuys. THEY’RE SO INCREDIBLY CUTE.

Here’s the premise, for anyone who hasn’t already heard about it:

Director Thomas Balmes spent four to five years living with four different families. The families live in Namibia, Japan, Mongolia, and the United States, and he basically follows the first twelve to eighteen months of each child’s life. There are two boys (Ponijao and Bayar) and two girls (Mari and Hattie).

As you can expect, with locations as diverse as these, there are some differences in what the children do and do not experience. Also, as a warning–unless you live in the most awesome, kickass city on Earth, you’re probably going to have at least one person who mutters “gross” at one point or another. My suggestion? Try to ignore it and just enjoy the film. For example, I was rankled when someone audibly gasped (in a not-so-nice way) when a mother was shown breastfeeding, but instead of letting it sour my experience, I just rolled with the beauty.

I’m trying to tiptoe around the film itself because I really don’t want to take away from anything specific in case you guys haven’t seen it yet. However, let me say this: get ready for some hella gorgeous majesty, and by this, I mean the majesty of infancy. If your life has been touched by any child, you’re going to love this film. I don’t think the degree to which you will love this film will change if you have given birth or adopted, baby-sat or nannied, step-parented or biologically-parented, and so on and so forth–if you have loved a child, if you even just think that maybe, some day, you MIGHT love a child, you will love this movie. You know, even if you think you’re never, ever going to love a child, you’ll still smile. And maybe go “aww.” To yourself.

Like many awesome documentaries, Babies is mostly dialogue free–every so often there are snippets of conversation, but there are no subtitles, and adult faces, if even shown, are usually cut off below the eyes. Even better, the camera is mostly at baby level, further emphasizing who the subjects are, and approaching the world from the same way that they see it.

One of my absolute favorite aspects of the film is that the households are not all stock nuclear families, and the ones that are aren’t exactly cookie-cutter representations of the stereotypes of their countries. For example, the American family is made up of a mom, a dad, and a daughter. However, they practice yoga, get in hot tubs naked (complete with a naked baby!), and sing songs to the Earth at baby playtime. The make-up of the family in Namibia is so ambiguous that it’s difficult to discern whose child is whose at first, but then you begin to (or at least, I did) realize that what’s important is how the children are loved, not necessarily by whom.

Something else that’s nice? In Namibia, as in Alabama (that’s where I’m at), it’s perfectly fine for your child to teeth on anything–be it a rock, a stick, or the dog.

It’s easy to get caught up in the romanticizing of various people and families in the film, and, for me at least, to be drawn to the Mongolian and Namibian families because what they are, on the surface, is different from what I see often in families or even in my own. However, the truly sublime backbone of the narrative, what all of the families are living, is that the key to nurturing a life is to love that life as much as possible.

Comments on The babies have come

  1. I would love to see this at some point, probably on DVD ($10.50 for a film here, insane!), but I haven’t seen anything in the news or media about it at all. Hm.

    • OH wow! It’s all over the place here! But good, maybe everyone will be pumped about seeing it on the site and not over it! 🙂

      It’s not on there yet, but we watch movies on that website ALL the time and have had no computer problems! 😉

  2. I am not trying to be a hater on babies, or the movie, but I find it frustrating that the director took the cheap shot of playing into stereotypes. While you note that they are not all “stock nuclear families”, the film portrays the families in ways that support all our stereotypes. The naked babies in “Africa” being raised by the community, the hippie family in the US that still is stuck with a Western delivery, etc. I don’t hate the film, I just wish they had not reinforced so many of our stereotypes about “Africa” and the “developing world” within it. It would have been nice, for example, to see an urban area in Namibia and Mongolia, and perhaps a rural area in the US and Japan — just to help break down our common stereotypes about what it means to grow up in different parts of the world.

    • I work in West Africa, so I sort of agree with you. On the other hand, the vast majority of people in Africa don’t live in urban, wealthy settings. Many Africans also no longer live in villages, but slums in cities.

    • I really agree with this. I enjoyed the movie, but it was very much a surface-level movie. The friend I saw it with compared it to all the youtube videos of cute babies, just an hour long instead of three minutes. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I like cute babies, but… I feel like there was such potential for the director to really look at what makes all our infants similar and what makes them different, and it was just completely glossed over in favor of scenes that seemed deliberately filmed to, on the one hand, gross out urban audiences, and on the other hand to portray this kind of noble savage/techno-hell dichotomy.

      I also wondered why they picked the San Francisco family–they’re so atypical of most US families. (Extremely wealthy, for one.) It makes me doubt whether the other families are also representative of their regions.

  3. I took my mom and grandma to see this for mother’s day, along with my sister. I really enjoyed the experience of seeing this film in a theater full of mothers, all giving knowing glances and laughes whenever one of the little ones did something they could all relate to. I feel lucky that nobody was noticeably shocked by any of the breastfeeding, or other nakedness in the film. What I like about Babies was not just seeing the differences in how we raise children, but also seeing the similarities, made me feel like we (citizens of the world) are all one big happy (for the most part) family 🙂

    • It is quite common and not so scary actually. I lived for a little while with a Mongolian woman who taught English in a little town at the edge of the Gobi. Occasionally I would help her pick up her two daughters from daycare. If she was busy with schoolwork, a family friend and I would go to get them. He would ride his motorcycle from the daycare to their home with the eldest (who LOVED it) and I would walk behind with the baby. Rest assured, from my observations Mongolians are well practiced at such things. I would trust that family friend on a motorbike with my own infant way more then I would trust most of the car drivers in my home city. Besides, there really aren’t many other options in the Mongolian countryside. There’s barely any roads, cars are hard to come by unless you are pretty wealthy (maybe 2-3 people per village have them?). So you’re really only left with a choice between a horse, a yak, a camel, a motorcycle, or your own two feet. They make it work and make it safe because they have to. Fun fact: Mongolian women have been known to ride horseback miles and miles while in labor to get to the doc. Another fun fact: Mongolians LOVE breastfeeding, breast milk, and have some interesting breastfeeding habits (cough, cough, cough, this would be an interesting blog post topic…hint, hint…)

  4. I saw it this weekend and loved it!!!! Its really a cheerful film and I spend a lot of time giggling at the babies and their experiences.

  5. Does anyone know when this is coming out in the UK? I was SO excited to see it in the states, but now I’m worried I won’t be able to get it until I get back and it’s on video!

  6. Hasn’t come out in my country yet, but I am so excited for when it does! I hope to learn something from the other culture, but it will be hard not to idealize the other cultures. Heck, it will be hard to remember that not all North American’s are like the San Francisco family! That said, I hope I get lost in the experience of watching the film, and enjoy it as much as I think I will.

  7. I loved this movie.. I think you nailed it when you said “if you have loved a child, if you even just think that maybe, some day, you MIGHT love a child, you will love this movie”.

    I think I could have watched a whole movie just about the Mongolian boy or the Namibian girl.. so wonderful and natural. And it was amazing to me that even though the US family may have been more natural/different, they were still pushing so much information on how to be into the little one during story time.. maybe unintentionally, because that’s what we’ve learned to do.. but it was amazing to just watch the other children just get to experience and process without always being told how.

    But that was just an interesting piece that stuck out to me- It’s just a fun glimpse into baby land.

  8. I just saw it and I really enjoyed it. I ended up seeing it with 2 friends who don’t have children and so didn’t understand a few things in the movie or misinterpreted parts. It was interesting to remember that I didn’t used to know all this mother stuff about 2 years ago myself, but that is just second nature to me now.

    I totally agree that I could have watched the whole movie of just the African Baby and the Mongolian baby, they had so much personality and I thought it was odd that they were the ones that reminded me the most of my American to the core little girl. Such adorable babies!

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