Baby Fever

I was on a plane yesterday. And so I grabbed for the nearest reading material, which happened to be Hemispheres Inflight Magazine. I began reading an article about the upcoming documentary Babies. Directed by Thomas Balmes, the film is already receiving favorable reviews.

Out this month from Focus Features, Babies documents a year in the life of four infants — one each in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo and San Francisco — from birth through the torments of teething to their first unsteady steps. Nearly 80 minutes long and virtually dialogue-free, Babies is one of Balmes’ stark observational documentaries, which also include examinations of mad cow disease and tribes in Papua New Guinea. Embedded with his subjects, whom he cast while they were still in the womb, Balmes blends into the background and keeps his camera rolling as “reality offers these amazing moments.”

Based on the preview, it seems this is a film brings to life the everyday beauty of having a child (something often skipped over in media). But it was Balmes’ vision for the film that struck me:

Scenes are presented without narration, which is one of the film’s great strengths. “I don’t like to take the viewer by the hand,” says Balmes. But there’s no guidance needed to get the message of Babies, which demonstrates that despite how little these far-flung families seem to have in common, when it comes to our earliest experiences, humans around the world aren’t so different after all.

Imparting such lessons is the overarching goal of Babies, which Balmes insists is about more than adorable cheeks and chubby toes. He hopes the film inspires viewers to see the world anew. “Hopefully it will make some of them want to have kids, too,” he says. “It’s one of the most beautiful things in the world.”

How many artists out there are affirming the beauty of family life in such a dramatic way? Perhaps Balmes himself was inspired by observing it up close. I once read that Shirley Temple was responsible for the baby boom. “People watched her on screen,” one researcher noted, “and everybody wanted one.” I wonder if Babies will inspire people in a similar way. It seems that Balmes hopes so.

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About the Author

Suzanne Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, who is a family pastor, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.

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