by Kristin Harmel
May 07, 2010
It’s unimaginable for many new moms in America, so it’s riveting on film. A new mother in rural Namibia can’t afford to take her baby to a doctor without selling one of the family’s goats. In the far reaches of Mongolia, a mother keeps a close eye on her toddler so that he doesn’t stray into the path of an oncoming herd of cows. But are these decisions, these circumstances that much different than yours?
BABIES, a new documentary from Focus Features that opens nationwide today in honor of Mother’s Day, takes its cameras to four locations, to four babies, across the globe to capture and explore the universal truths of parenthood.
At the heart of the film is an ode to something very simple: babyhood. “I dreamt of a movie theater audience,” says producer Alain Chabat, “that would applaud simply because a baby would stand on his own two feet.” It’s more than a story about standing up, however. Through vivid scenes and little dialogue, each baby begins to find his or her footing in the world.
In an effort to show audiences the differences—and, more importantly, commonalities—among the babies, the film drops narration, so that the focus is on the babies, their stories, and the sights and sounds of the world as they experience it. Bayarjargal stares out at a herd of passing goats. Mari takes in Tokyo from a big glass elevator, the behemoth skyline rising beneath her.
On one level, each baby’s story is different, but each is the same. In Namibia, Ponijao’s mother washes her with red ochre. In San Francisco, Hattie takes a thoroughly modern shower with her father. Scenes break from top-of-the-line toys in a wealthy U.S. home, to Ponijao chewing on a bone in Namibia. Surrounded by at least a dozen toys in her Tokyo living room, Mari has a miniature meltdown. Then in the next scene, Bayarjargal is happily pulling apart a roll of toilet paper in Mongolia.
There are issues of poverty and health care that impact the children’s lives in different ways. And the film, while avoiding any political consignment, highlights the stark differences from nation to nation. Yet, at its core, BABIES isn’t a social statement about the disparity between countries. Instead, it’s about the similarities. Viewers will follow all four babies as each learns to crawl, stand, and speak their first words—proud moments for any parent anywhere. The film’s message is very clear: love between parent and child is the one universal truth that transcends all social, economical, and cultural barriers.
“What happens between parent and child is so crucial, and I hope our film reminds people of that,” Balmès says in the film’s production notes. “Sometimes, with life happening, you can get a little lazy in developing a real relationship with your kids. I myself have. I hope BABIES shows that no matter what their conditions are, wherever they live, these babies grow up happy as long as they are loved, and that this is universal.”
Copyright ©2013 baby gooroo, inc.