Posted May 6, 2010 in Film

The rulebook for bearing babies—especially in the States—is longer than the Bible, and it grows every year. In fact, after the Bible, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care claims to be the second highest-selling book of all time. Even so, this documentary on one of the most universal, photographed, analyzed, opined upon and slavered over human experiences manages to astound. French filmmaker Thomas Balmes scouted expectant families in San Francisco, Mongolia, Tokyo and Namibia. Once his new stars—three girls and a boy—popped out, he spent the next two years as the families’ silent uncle who always toted a camera. Mari in Japan weeps with confusion when she can’t understand geometry blocks, but resolutely tries to shove a circle into a square; Bayar in Mongolia braves a stampede of cows; Ponijao (now the second-most famous baby born in Namibia) first discovers that boys and girls have different parts. Parents flit by like babbling bodies—even Hattie’s English-speaking parents seem to buzz with white noise—and have themselves chopped into pieces by Balmes’ baby-centered camera. Nameless, they appear in chunks: a breast, a knee, an arm. In the best way, Babies is like being born again into confusion. Why is calligraphy written on Mari’s feet? Why is Hattie’s first view a hospital bed with tubes? Who are the eight other children buzzing around Ponijao? We don’t know, and we won’t know, and that’s Balmes’ big idea. He wordlessly reminds us of wonder. Everyone tells you how to raise a kid—this doc shows you how to feel like one. 


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