Review: Babies

Posted: April 13, 2011 in Artistry, Cinema, Culture, Idle Nonsense

A movie trailer functions not as a synopsis, digest, or distillation but as an advertisement for the film from which it is drawn. As such, trailers often make films appear far more tantalizing than they turn out to be. My initial assessment based on a trailer doesn’t usually lead me astray, but from time to time, I’ll get get suckered into a movie that is either pointless or just plain bad. (Bad that crosses over into inspired camp is a rare special case.) I had seen the trailer for the French documentary Babies and knew immediately I am not part of its target audience. The inborn emotional response most people feel toward babies is absent from me. I don’t find them adorable or irresistible or desirable, nor do I enjoy holding them (based on those few occasions when someone foisted one into my arms, totally insensitive to my not having asked). They’re just extremely young people to me.

So I happened to spy the DVD on the shelf at the library, and despite my self-acknowledged disinterest, I decided to check it out (literally).

The film profiles the first year (or so) of life of four babies, one each from Tokyo, Japan; San Francisco, California, U.S.A.; Bayanchandmani, Töv Aimag, Mongolia; and Opuwo, Namibia. Developmental milestones are observed, including birth, crawling, first words, and first steps. It’s frequently said that the human body is approximately 80% water. Well, those babies prove it. They’re constantly springing leaks in the form of tears, drool, snot, vomit, and pee. Something liquid is always coming out of them. Beyond the mere time line, the film has no plot, narrative, or voice-over, the few spoken words being those uttered by the parents to the babies. There is also ample nudity, though the film is wisely rated PG because naked babies and mothers’ breasts (shown in their proper biological function) aren’t the sort of sexualized nudity that would cause a stir.

The film doesn’t present itself as a cross-cultural study of infant life, but it so obviously invites comparisons that one cannot help but notice differences. Two babies are from the First World, one is Second World, and the last is Third World. All appeared to be well loved and cared for and none suffer apparent hardships. I found it interesting that the second- and third-world babies had intimate contact with animals other than house pets, which was natural considering their settings. In comparison, the two first-world babies were surrounded by myriad baby products. The Japanese and American babies played with toys; the Namibian baby banged rocks together. (The American parents in particular showed that if there was a baby or parenting product to fetishize, they probably owned it.) Similarly, the second- and third-world babies were clearly allowed to explore in the dirt whereas the first-world babies didn’t seem to get nearly so dirty. The Namibian baby was also the only one adorned with jewelry, which seemed to be of greater interest than clothing.

Here I’ll admit something rather ugly. Whereas the sex of the babies was never of the slightest interest, the only blond-haired, blue-eyed baby was the American, onto whom I involuntarily projected positive attributes. This obviously wasn’t part of the film. In fact, I was sorta wondering where the hell it came from

Since I’m not a professional movie critic, I’m not restricted by convention, so I won’t hesitate to wonder why this movie was made. Most documentaries take as their subjects something controversial or intrinsically interesting (usually aberrant). Even day- or year-in-the-life films need points of interest. The comparative angle of this documentary doesn’t satisfy that requirement, so beyond obvious baiting of an automatically sympathetic public with cooing baby goodness, I find Babies to be a pointless exercise. It stands in stark comparison to two other documentaries I viewed recently (but won’t review in detail): The Cove and Sharkwater. Both document atrocities committed against sea life. Clear reasons exist for their making. It’s not the absence of storytelling I found frustrating in Babies. I’m a big fan of Godfrey Reggio’s wordless Qatsi trilogy, which films present the loosest of structures but succeed remarkably on the strengths of music and cinematography. No analogous strengths are present in Babies, and the filmmakers take it for granted that “everyone loves …” them.

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Comments
  1. process prodigy says:

    I like this site layout . How did you make it!? It is really sweet!

    • Brutus says:

      I use a standard WordPress theme called Greyzed. I’ve chosen a few of my own widgets, but it’s basically an off-the-shelf theme.

      BTW, I’ve redacted links to your website and Facebook page. It’s not clear that you even read the blog on which you’re commenting. I’m interested in discussion, but I’m not so thrilled about publishing spam and promotional links.

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