The new movie "Babies" by French documentarian and director, Thomas Balmes, has been much discussed from the adult point of view. Some grown-ups find the four babies -- Hattie from San Francisco, Mari from Tokyo, Bayar from Mongolia and Ponijao from Namibia -- to be adorable, funny and fascinating. Parents in particular marvel at the differences in infant-rearing practices and resources among the four cultures. Others yawn that this film is about as entertaining as someone else's lengthy home video.
But what about the perspective of those much closer in age to the babies on the screen? A trip to the movies with a group of little girls all under the age of 6 showed just how riveting "Babies" can be to the right audience. To small kids, the small dramas of infant life are enthralling. Two babies tussling over a plastic bottle? They understand the stakes and the humor. A baby wild with frustration over trying to master a stacking toy? They've been there (recently). A baby's unsupervised encounter with a household animal (cat, goat, rooster) or a not entirely benevolent older sibling? They are on the edge of their seats.
In short, little kids get "Babies." While many adults want to know more about the infants' social context, young children appreciate the film's tight focus on the babies themselves. Mari, Bayar, Ponijao and Hattie are all healthy and well-loved, and the common hurdles they face in simply growing and communicating are at least as interesting as their vastly differing environments. Our group expressed some envy for the baby who got to "roll in the dirt" (Ponijao) but they also appreciated the more familiar baby activities in Tokyo and San Francisco.
The film culminates as each of these lovable characters learns to walk. A commonplace achievement, no doubt, but one requiring valiant effort nevertheless. And who better to applaud the everyday courage these babies display than children who have barely made it out of babyhood themselves?
Watching our small kids watch these babies is, if nothing else, a reminder of what an extraordinary journey they have already made.
Note: Commonsense Media recommends this film for children seven years old and up because of "maternal nudity" (meaning, in essence, that there are a number of breast-feeding scenes, and that Namibian mothers are shown topless as is customary). But for children who were breast-fed themselves or are accustomed to seeing infants nursing, we feel that this guideline can be comfortably waived.
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