Hot Docs Review: Babies

It may be politically incorrect of me to say this, but babies kind of freak me out. I’m sure there are all sorts of deep seated reasons for this which we won’t get into here, but the point is I wasn’t super excited to go see Thomas Balmes’ highly anticipated documentary Babies.  I can’t say it won me over completely, but I did find a few things to smile about in this charming albeit slow-moving documentary.

The story follows the development of four babies in different parts of the world (Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco) from their births to the taking of their first steps. Similar in tone to a nature documentary, Babies has virtually no dialogue and focuses entirely on the children in question, with little attention paid to their environment and surroundings.

What’s interesting about this movie is the way it works as a cultural study. The differences in the way the children are reared based on their locations proves somewhat fascinating. Few parents in this neck of the woods would allow their months-old children to play alone in a riverbed, or allow a rooster to hang out in bed with them, yet by the end the American parents seem overprotective and paranoid. At the same time the movie showcases how similar the children are to each other: they cry, they play, they fight, they act out, they learn to eat and crawl and eventually walk. Essentially their development is the same. It’s this exploration of the vast differences yet remarkable similarities that makes the movie worth watching.

With the cameras spending long periods of time focused on each child, the movie captures some genuinely cute and funny moments (some involving farm animals). Unfortunately most of the film seems to drag (or crawl if you will), with no story or dialogue to move it along. Much of what we see are the kinds of moments that for the most part, only a parent would love. As it drags through its 79 minutes it’s likely that most other viewers will lose interest.

Part of the reason a lot of film folks wanted to see this movie was because of the cinematography, rumored to be fantastic. But alas, rumors are often just that. There were some lovely shots but nothing to write home about.

The film has attracted quite a bit of buzz among the stroller-pushing crowd and many of them will likely appreciate it. So if you’re the type to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ every time one of those giant buggies that takes up the entire sidewalk passes by, go see it. The rest of you won’t miss anything by skipping it.

The Upside: An interesting cultural study that comments of the different child rearing methods across the world without saying a word.

The Downside: It’s no March of the Penguins.

On the Side: Being a new parent, Balmes briefly considered using his own child in the film but thinking it was too intrusive, his wife said ‘no way.’

Grade: C+

Click here for more coverage of the Hot Docs Film Festival

Lauren Flanagan is a freelance film and entertainment writer based in Toronto. She writes for several online and print publications and hopes to one day prove to her parents that sitting around watching movies is in fact doing something with your life. She enjoys gangster movies, long walks on the beach, and getting the upper hand. In her spare time she drives around in a van solving mysteries.

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