In a rare case of truth in advertising, "Babies" gives audiences exactly what's promised: 78 minutes of unfiltered infant adventure. It's not a documentary in the traditional sense, lacking a purring narrator or an expert opinion to anchor it. Instead, the picture provides an up-close glimpse of life at its earliest wobbly stages, tracking the rise of four new, bewildered members to the human race.
Instead of observing a single newborn on the way to the glory of its first steps, "Babies" covers four little ones from around the globe, greeting Ponijao from Namibia, Bayarjargal from Mongolia, Hattie from San Francisco, and Mari from Tokyo. From the moment of their birth, director Thomas Balmes keeps his cameras trained on their movement, watching as the babies develop in diverse areas of the world, while also observing the range of parenting techniques and instincts that help to keep the wee ones alive and happy.
"Babies" is pure behavior, which takes a few moments to process. Balmes doesn't interfere or comment on the children, but merely captures their purity of development and unfailing curiosity. While helped along by a few soundtrack cuts, "Babies" is primarily a silent viewing experience, with mighty passages of infant response taking center stage, as they coo, cry, and gurgle from desert huts to city high-rises, with their universal needs creating a compelling human uniformity despite diverse cultural backgrounds and environmental/economic disparity.
Educational in a roundabout way, "Babies" explores how infants communicate and seize their self-awareness, with the stars of the show working their way around the household, interacting with toys, sucking on homemade pacifiers (a piece of fat harpooned by a matchstick in Mongolia), dealing with jealous siblings, and often bombing around with domesticated animals (three of the homes have very patient cats). "Babies" is a chance to drink in the essence of experience, with extended takes devoted to these young things simply exploring their surroundings, which leads to bouts of joy or ungodly frustration.
Just who is "Babies" for? Seemingly indistinct as a documentary, the picture could easily become a valuable reflection of life for new parents, while the film also feeds into babyfever hysteria all too conveniently, with Bayarjargal rising as a filthy, snotty, 100% adorable star of the show as he giggles with every new revelation. Motherhood is also a huge component of "Babies," displaying the spectrum of reactions to everyday duties, including the disposal of fecal matter, refereeing horseplay, and breastfeeding. For outsiders looking in, "Babies" paints a persuasive portrait of parenting demands, though overall physical drain isn't addressed.
"Babies" also seems ideal for babies, who might delight in watching others enjoy the first few years of life. The documentary is best keeping to the infants, allowing the audience to watch them comprehend the world and their own working parts, taking their first steps toward maturity, full on breast milk, tears, and a raging curiosity that seems as though it will last forever.