Wendy Walsh: This year's Mother's Day wish took barely a second of contemplation for me: I wanted to see the new documentary, "Babies." I had seen the trailer in a movie theater and was counting the days until the Mother's Day weekend release.
And I was not disappointed. "Babies" follows four babies from four very distinct cultures, from birth to walking -- and it is guaranteed to put a wide smile on any mother's face. The little "stars" of this heartwarming documentary live in Namibia, Mongolia, Japan and the United States, and the varied parenting styles are as fascinating to witness as are the emotional stories told on the babies' faces. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Thomas Balmes, from an original idea by Alain Chabat, the genius of "Babies" is its absence of narration and its use of extreme close-ups to express the emotional journey of the first stage of humanity. The adults are merely body parts in the background, going about their lives while the babies' faces reveal their bewildered, frustrated and joyful awakening to their environment. If a baby's measured frown can convey the phrase "What the f---?", this film captures it.
This is an especially important film for two kinds of American mothers: new mothers consumed with worry for the safety of their little bundles of joy, and seasoned mothers still plagued by guilt at the thought that they might have made mistakes in their child's life. Once you see a Mongolian hospital worker tying up a newborn until the child almost reaches the point of asphyxiation -- and then sending it home on the back of a motorcycle, or an African baby dragging itself across the dusty ground to plop headfirst into a small stream to slurp up water, you know that most babies do survive without harm. And when you compare those babies' natural surroundings to the wide-eyed intake of urban centers like Tokyo and San Francisco, you get a sense that environment does shape our perspective.
Of particular interest to me were the various styles of breastfeeding. From the Namibian mother whose engorged glands hang free for years and serve any child who asks, to the modest American mother who switches to a bottle faster than any other, the cultural differences are obvious.
Although there is a unique story to be told by each baby (and our heart goes out to the Mongolian baby, who is tortured by his homicidal toddler brother), the joy and struggle of developing humanity is universal. I highly recommend this sweet, fascinating film.