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Friday, May 7, 2010
For cultural and maternal nudity throughout
Ponijao, Bayar, Mari, Hattie
The adventure of a lifetime begins... This film simultaneously follows four babies around the world – from birth to first steps.
Babies (2010) | Preview
God's Opinion That Life Should Go On
The filmmakers found four pregnant women in wide ranging parts of the world that consented to being part of this film. That meant that there would be a camera in their home on and off for a couple of years as the babies developed, both physically and in their personalities. It is done completely without narration—nothing is explained to us. We just see these four babies from birth (or shortly thereafter) until they can walk. They quit filming them when the children understood they were being filmed and might act differently for the camera.
We see very little of the parents in the film, but their presence is always felt. These children are being raised in loving homes. That was one of the criteria for "casting" these families. The real stars are the babies themselves: Ponijao, a girl who was the eighth of nine children in Namibia; Bayarjargal, a Mongolian boy who lives in a Mongolian yurt; Mari, a girl in Tokyo; and Hattie, a girl in San Francisco.
There is a wide diversity in their circumstances. Two are in rural, semi-nomadic families; two live in urban settings. Certainly neither the African or Mongolian family live in the kind of wealth that is found in Tokyo or California. Mari and Hattie are only children; Ponijao and Bayarjargal have siblings. They come from very different cultures. To be sure, they develop differently, but also very much alike.
We go from baby to baby as they grow. We see their first look at the new world they have been born into. We see them nursing and bonding with their mothers. We see them begin to understand that there is much to find in this world. We see their frustrations—with toys and siblings. We see them master new skills that will open the world to them even more.
There is no judgment on which way of life is better. Each has its own value. Life in Namibia may seem somewhat primitive to Western eyes, but I'm sure that there are things about Tokyo or San Francisco that would repulse the parents in Mongolia or Namibia. All the light and noise and the relative sterility of the urban homes might be more than the more rural parents would want to expose their children to. But in spite of these differences, these babies are also remarkably alike. They all are on a grand adventure of discovery—maybe of toys and books, maybe of cows and goats.
Certainly this film is filled with cuteness. Babies are adorable as they discover new things and struggle to acquire the basic skills of life. For the most part we see them enjoying themselves, but even when they are having a hard time—even throwing a minor tantrum -- the viewer has to smile at the experience.
The choice to have no commentary is a good one. We all know what babies are like. We understand that in many ways they are sponges soaking up new things from the world around them. There are a few things from other cultures that viewers may wonder about. Although I've read production notes that explain some of these, that knowledge really doesn't have any impact on my enjoyment of the film. Perhaps when it comes out in DVD a commentary will explain these things. You should still watch it at least once without any narration.
Carl Sandburg said, "A baby is God's opinion that life should go on." Parents often feel that God has blessed them through their children. This film is a celebration of the new life that comes into the world in each child. It is a celebration of the gift that each of these children is not only to its family, but to us all.
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