Who's In It: Ponijao (Namibia), Mari (Tokyo), Hattie (San Francisco), Bayarjargal (Mongolia) and their parents
The Basics: Four infants are born on three different continents to loving parents who allow a documentary crew to film each and every major and minor moment in their newborns' lives, from child birth to first steps. The babies cry. They gurgle. They crawl. They poop. And for a brisk, narration-free 79 minutes, you witness through the magic of film how four families of varying language, culture, occupation, income bracket, and parenting philosophies raise their kid to be the cutest thing that ever lived. Recommended for that Mother's Day movie date with your favorite mom, expectant mom, or wannabe mom. Dudes can go see Iron Man 2.
What's the Deal: This movie's about babies, so really, what else is there to say? The ideal audience for this doc REALLY loves babies or has gone through motherhood themselves and finds all things baby so insanely adorable, they don’t mind having not much else to watch besides, well, babies being babies. Documentarian Thomas Balmes captures a ton of every day footage of his four chosen infants, from the mundane (newborns blinking wildly at everything in sight) to the adorable (two words: baby laughter!) to the hilarious, if you have my sense of humor (Bayarjargal, the only boy of the bunch, sends a glorious arc of pee skyward as he lays blissfully unaware on his back). Balmes shot the majority of the footage himself and puts a keen eye to striking compositions and gorgeous cinematography that enhance the otherwise mundane events in his subjects' daily lives, resulting in a film with a beautiful National Geographic-esque sheen and a surplus of surprisingly wondrous moments.
Where Else Babies Could Have Gone: It is a tad disappointing that Babies doesn't offer much more beyond its captured observations, artfully lensed cinematography, and some loosely connected thematic montages; you're left to draw your own conclusions about the impact economic disparity has on child rearing practices across cultures, or if that baby in Africa will need any special shots after using a dusty bone from the ground as a chew toy. (My snooty American sensibilities say "Yuck.") But hey, who needs all that heavy analysis when all you want is a cute fix?
Nobody Wants To Play Favorites, But… Yes, yes, all four infants are super-duper adorable. But my personal favorite baby was Ponijao, the little girl born to a sprawling ethnic Himba family in rural Namibia who spends much of her baby life on her mother's breast, exploring the dirt landscape on her bare bum alongside goats, and putting the aforementioned discarded bone in her mouth. When the eternally smiling Ponijao is the first to be portrayed speaking, in a sequence cleverly edited to show her beating the privileged San Francisco baby Hattie to the punch, I silently cheered. Score one for the happy desert kid with nothing but her family and the hot African sun! Take that, yuppie Americans, with your Earth mother music classes and your early comprehension reading books!
The Random French Guy Responsible For It All: Producer Alain Chabat, the French comedian and actor who made calendars with Gael Garcia Bernal in The Science of Sleep and played Napoleon in Night at the Smithsonian 2, who first conceived the idea of a movie entirely about babies growing up.