No matter what some people may say, no matter how much they may scream and yell at the top of their lungs that it is otherwise, we are all far more the same than we are different. Perhaps nothing brings that fact into such stark relief as looking at children. They may have slightly different toys, they may dress differently or talk differently, and they may look different, but they’re the same the world over. In his latest film, Babies, director Thomas Balmes follows four babies from four different countries from their birth until their first steps and documents just how similar we all are.
Balmes cuts back and forth between the four babies – Hattie from San Francisco, Bayarjargal from Mongolia, Ponijao from Namibia, and Mari from Tokyo – exploring how, despite the different cultures, babies have a tendency to all respond in the same way, learn similar things, and advance in a similar fashion. Some of this, one could (maybe successfully) argue, is potentially a lie created through the magic editing. Just because you see children do things in four different parts of the world one after another doesn’t mean that it happened remotely at the same point in their life – that the magic of editing makes it appear as though it has. It is possibly true that the editing of the film has helped heighten the similarities, but as everything happens before the kids can walk, there really is not a lot of shifting of time that can occur.
That is, in essence, the brilliance of the film – it is so simple and yet so wonderful. More or less, the film is just watching these moments in the lives of various babies. The camera is on them, focused on them. Parents, siblings, animals, everything else, is purely incidental. You sit there for 79 minutes (it’s a short full-length film) and watch the babies interact (or not) with the world around them. It is not (or at least ought not be) an amazing revelation, but the revelation the film delivers is that we are all more the same than different. Some of the lessons Babies gives us – kids will get into trouble, they always do the most interesting thing when you’re not looking, pets are fun, and siblings cause issues – are things we probably already knew, but that are great to watch unfold in their simplicity anyway.
With no narration and minimal amounts of music, 79 minutes feels like the exact right length for the film – it is long enough to feel fulfilling without ever really lagging. In fact, the most disappointing aspect of it all is the bare-bones release that it’s been given on Blu-ray. This is a film that cries out for a director’s commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an extended discussion of what went into both filming and editing the movie, a talk on how the families were chosen, an explanation of it all. The main feature works, but anyone watching it will come up with a lot of questions about it, questions that could have easily been answered with a commentary track or in featurettes, but the release – almost mockingly – avoids that. Instead, we are given an exceedingly brief look at the babies and their families three years later (part of which involves watching them watching the movie) and photos and videos of other babies sent in by sweepstakes winners. There is so much more that could have and should have been said here and the fact that it isn’t including can be considered nothing less than a massive disappointment.
The technical aspects of the release are solid though not spectacular. With the minimal amounts of sound other than ambient noise, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is in no way taxed. There is some directionality given for the sounds, but nothing major or spectacular. The video is, for the most part, crisp and clean, although there are definitely some scenes with more than their fair share of grain. While the colors are not muted, they are certainly not eye-popping and the definition in most scenes, most notably close-ups of skin, is impressive.
As a Blu-ray release, Babies provides a great lesson, but very few answers. It is wonderful to watch these children grow and experience the world for the first time, but anyone wanting to know how it all came about – and that has to be an almost equally fascinating story – will walk away disappointed.