If you haven’t heard about it, here’s the basic idea. A French director, Thomas Balmes, wanted to do a documentary about four babies from four different parts of the world, capturing their first year of life. Actually, he chose four loving expectant couples, because his cameras start rolling at the moment of birth. From there, he records their everyday moments, their growth, their place in the family, and their dawning self-awareness. When I say “documentary,” don’t imagine some dry, scientific voice describing what you’re seeing. In this movie there are no voice-overs, no narration, no sub-titles, just beautiful background music and babies being babies. What really interested me about this project was the sociological aspect. What would be the effect of these differing cultures on each individual child?
In Namibia, we meet little Ponijao, who lives with her mother and other members of her tribe outside her family’s dirt hut. Bayar lives with his parents, siblings and a herd of cattle in a yurt in remote Mongolia. Mari lives in an apartment in Tokyo with her parents, surrounded by educational toys. And Hattie lives in San Francisco with her new age-y parents, attending Baby Yoga and Mother Earth celebrations.
This movie runs one hour and nineteen minutes and I wasn’t bored once. the comparisons and contrasts were fascinating. I felt the Japanese and American babies came off as pampered and over-protected, but maybe that was because of seeing how the other babies were so often left on their own and flourished. Ponijao in Namibia wandered half-naked on rocky, dusty ground, putting anything she found into her mouth. Little Bayar from Mongolia was often swaddled and left on a bed while his parents did their chores and seemed none the worse for wear. When he was a little older, they tied rope around one of his ankles and the other end around the bed’s leg and let him roam in this limited perimeter. This is apparently an accepted form of child care. Again, he seemed to accept this with equanimity.
It’s hard to pick a favorite from all these sweet babies, but, if forced, I’d pick Bayar. This little boy was almost walked on by a rooster, shared his bath with a goat and crawled amidst a herd of cattle just as nonchalantly as you please. His unrelenting good nature got to me. For me the movie almost argued that the African and Mongolian babies, being allowed to naturally interact with their environments, were less fretful and more sturdy than the other two, who almost suffered information overload in their worlds of media, toys and classes.
Here is the movie trailer which gives you a good feel for what the movie is like.
I would dare anyone to try to sit through this entire movie without cracking a smile or bursting out laughing. It is so special and so entertaining. And to think they do the entire thing without any dialogue is amazing. Needless to say, I was enthralled.