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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Babies

Thomas Balmes Gives Humans the Wildlife Documentary Treatment

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Babies cry across the world for hunger and attention and in every society, mothers answer their call. That just about sums up the message and meaning of Thomas Balmes’ documentary, Babies. The French director collects his closely observed footage on the earliest life of children from four widely separate sites, remote villages in Namibia and Mongolia along with cosmopolitan centers in Tokyo and San Francisco.

The Namibian cluster of stick and grass huts, far in the desert of southwest Africa, looks untouched by recent technology. The Mongolian family lives in a yurt with a satellite dish and an electric generator; their baby is born in a hospital and wrapped tightly by the nurse in swaddling clothes, following an ancient and widespread nativity custom. The hospital and home environments in Tokyo and Frisco are familiar and comfortably middle class.

The anthropological comparisons are interesting, especially the ways in which children are socialized in different cultures. The movie is beautifully filmed and virtually wordless except for the cooing chatter of parents. Given its presentation, it’s impossible not to think of Babies as a wildlife documentary with human children as the species under observation.

Babies is screening at the Downer Theatre.

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