Generally, whenever anything connected to Anne Geddes is within five feet I start to get a little queasy. I was afraid "Babies" would be like watching an extended commercial for Anne Geddes' new project. The film is cute and fun and amusing, but, thankfully, the saccharin levels are kept in check. How this is done is not entirely clear to me. It almost seems like a miracle.
We watch as four new babies enter the world. First, cameras actually capture Bayar's birth in a surprisingly up to date Mongolian hospital. Ponijau, the Namibian baby, is born in the most primitive conditions, her mother spreading red dye over her belly before birth and over the newborn when she enters the world. We also catch up with Mari, born in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and Hattie, born in the most medically sophisticated surroundings in a hospital in San Francisco. As the camera focuses on the babies, we watch the very different parents care for their newborns, imparting the traditions and conditions of their respective societies on the new children.
"Babies" doesn't have a narrative; it simply follows the children through various parts of their first years. We watch Ponijaur fighting with another child as they play in the red dirt, pounding plastic bottles with rocks. We watch as Mari attends a Mommy and Me group with her mother, trying to figure out what the overly eager instructor is doing or meant to be. We watch as Hattie attends some strange sort of bonding class with her father, the adults chanting as the babies stare around mystified. We watch as Bayar sits in a metal tub of bath water and a goat walks up behind him and starts to drink from the same water. All of these images are unexplainably mesmerizing and interesting.
While there isn't a narrative, it does seem as though there is a thematic assembly. For instance, scenes of the babies learning to crawl are woven together, scenes of the babies learning with their parents are woven together, and scenes of the babies interacting with cats are woven together. While there isn't an over-structured feel to the film, grouping these shots together helps to provide an interesting look at how different these cultures are. And, in many ways, they are also very similar.
Throughout the film, there are probably twice as many shots of the babies sitting alone, reacting to things, than there needs to be. These moments seem to be included to elicit laughter and feelings of endearment and veer dangerously close to the cloying Geddes-like feel I was dreading. Thankfully, just as these moments threaten to take over, the camera shifts to a new baby, a new theme or a new setting and the feeling is broken.
I really wasn't expecting to enjoy the film as much as I did. Perhaps the babies wove a magic spell over us and I am overlooking some obvious flaw. But the film has a couple of things going in its favor. First, the film runs 79 minutes. It is difficult to become bored in such a short period of time. Second, I was engaged by the glimpses of the various cultures and how different the families are.
"Babies" won't be everyone's cup of tea. A lack of viewpoint and narrative will probably drive many people batty. And not everyone will find the constant barrage of cute images palatable. But I went into the film fearing these things would make it an unpleasant experience for me to watch "Babies", as painful for me as giving birth. But "Babies" won me over and is a fun, enjoyable way to enjoy some time with a loved one.
Just don't take your wife or girlfriend if you aren't ready to have "that" discussion.