Movie Review – Babies

Babies, now on DVD and likely in your local library, is a 2009 film from Focus Features. Director Thomas Balmès and producer Alain Chabat follow four babies from four countries: Namibia, Japan, Mongolia, and the United States.

Relying on superb cinematography and the characters of the babes, Babies captures the growth of these four babies through their first year. Without the use of narration, it reveals charming moments of universality while also exposing stark differences in parenting and cultural perceptions of children.

Ponijao is born in a hut in Namibia. He lives in a small village with other families. The entire community, including his older brothers and sisters, take care of him. Mari lives with her parents in the heart Tokyo. As an only child, Mari lives an urban lifestyle and is doted on by all the adults in her life. Born in Mongolia, Bayarjargal and his older brother live in a yurt on the family farm. Hattie lives in San Francisco, California. Growing as an American, she is taken to play groups and cared for by both her parents.

What struck me most about the film is the amount of time children were left alone versus being entertained. Ponijao, from Namibia, is never alone. He is surrounded by his village at all times and therefore imitates their behaviour, language and skills early on. He is the first of the four to learn to walk – and that’s walking bare foot in the gravel! Yet he never receives any structured activities or entertainment. I am sure his parents wouldn’t understand the concept if it was suggested. The two urban babies, Hattie from San Francisco and Mari from Tokyo, are frequently left alone. They have many toys or devices to keep them busy. However, the two girls take part in regular structured activities – play groups, yoga, and storytime. Bayarjargal, from Mongolia, seems to straddle both these worlds. While he lives in a yurt and is frequently left to his own devices amongst the farm animals, his family also has a stroller and other toys familiar to westerners (for example, MegaBlocks).

This film will help any parent reflect on how culturally programmed we are in our parenting. Babies can help generate a discussion on why we do the things that we do as parents. On the flip side, Babies is a lovely way to discover that there are developmental and playful moments that span all borders.


9 Responses to “Movie Review – Babies”

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  3. 3 Michelle November 30, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    I thought the cultural differences in parenting styles were astounding. Could you even imagine leaving your one-year old alone in a herd of yak (or were they cattle)? It really made me realize how much we do as westerners to entertain our children – playgroups, lessons, etc. In my house, blankets and pillows are generally preferred over “real” toys. And still, our toy boxes are overflowing. Perhaps a good time to pare down.

    • 4 Mama Tortoise November 30, 2010 at 4:32 pm

      So true, Michelle! Maybe we should just set the kids up with a couple of rocks and let them work out their own play?!? Isn’t it amazing how much effort we put into entertaining our children? Especially when they are still ‘entertained’ by everyday routines and objects. My mother had Banana and the Bear spinning mixing bowls in the middle of the kitchen the other day – for a full 45 minutes!

  4. 5 Pamella November 30, 2010 at 7:27 am

    I loved this documentary. Watched it from the plane ride home from Egypt. I was struck and how similar the babies reacted and grew to certain conditions in their lives although different.

    We need to chat about this more Laura! Too much to type!

    • 6 Mama Tortoise November 30, 2010 at 4:22 pm

      I was thinking of you, Pam, when I watched the film! I was thinking of the story you told me about the woman (a stranger) on the beach passing you her newborn so that she could eat her lunch. I think the film really forces us to look at the individual vs collective ways we raise children. How it is acceptable to find a collective ‘mommy group’ to visit with, but how we would never pass our infant off to a stranger so we could eat.

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