It’s been two days since I watched French documentarian Thomas Balmes’ Babies, and I’m still not sure what I think about it. I can’t say that I necessarily liked it. At the same time, I understand the appeal it may have for some and find it an interesting take on the documentary, a genre of film that too often falls into the trap of self-importance.
The concept is simple. Balmes follows four babies from around the world—Namibia, Mongolia, Japan and the U.S.—from the time they’re born to the time they take their first steps. What’s interesting—and odd—about this approach is that this is all there is to the film. There is no narration, no talking-head footage, just babies being cute. Seventy-nine minutes worth of babies, as a matter of fact, just doing baby stuff. And that’s it.
Of course, your mileage will undoubtedly vary. Most of the audience I watched the film with appeared to be enjoying themselves, more in tune with the film’s inherent cuteness than I was. For myself, it felt a bit too much like being forced to watch some strangers’ home videos of their kids for an hour and 20 minutes (except for those minutes that I imagined Babies to be a prequel to the notorious Kids (1995), but that would be another review altogether). Nevertheless, I can’t really say I disliked the film. It’s a movie that’s nearly impossible to actively hold any animosity towards due to its innocuous nature.
It is a bit refreshing, however, to see a documentary that’s not concerned with some weighty political message. At the same time, I’d feel more enthused about the film if there were any kind of discernible point going on here. The best I can come up with ties into the film’s multicultural bent, and the universal experience of growing up, but even this is a bit flimsy. Then again, the point of Babies might just be to distill the documentary down to it’s essence, to only document and nothing more. If this is the case, then the film is definitely a success, but how much you actually enjoy the film will be totally dependent on your disposition and how in tune you are with the material. Rated PG for cultural and maternal nudity throughout.