Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My review of "Babies"


 The Babies are coming!  The Babies are here!
I attended the first local showing of Babies with my best friend, Kim (also a doula; in fact she just turned in her certification packet, YAY!!!), at the Rialto Cinemas on Summerfield.  It was quite an event with at least two local authors there selling and signing their books, food and drink, raffles, and free drinking vessels afterward, courtesy of Better Beginnings and the California Parenting Institute.  It was wonderful to spend the time with so many members of the birth/baby/motherhood community here in Sonoma County and surrounding areas, and the air was just electric with love and sharing and really community feeling.

Okay I know, on to the movie.

Shortest summary: I loved it.  It was not what I expected, but I loved it.

When I first saw the trailer, I thought surely there would be interviews with the parents and family and discussion of different parenting styles and cultural contexts, talk about the births, etc.  Kim told me as we were on our way there that there was no narration whatsoever, and I'm glad I knew that going in or I might have been more disappointed.  However, the movie really played out more like four photo albums of these babies' first year of life, with moving pictures instead of stationary.  Every little scene told a little story, from the  Namibian baby fighting over a bottle, to the Mogolian family's very tolerant cat (all the animals were very tolerant), to the Japanese baby thrown into (hilarious) fits of exquisite anguish over a toy that's not cooperating, to the American baby silently and intently filling her diaper.  The audience is left completely to its own devices to comprehend and compare each culture to the others.  Virtually all judgment is left up to the mind of the viewer to decide what and where bias lies.

That being said, there were some situations where I really, REALLY wanted more explanation.  (I vote for a "visual companion" book to be compiled for purchase with the DVD, but that's me.)  The meaning of the writing on the Japanese baby's feet, the event in Mongolia with the singing elders, the almost complete lack of screen time for Namibian adult males (we only see one at the very beginning, in silhouette against a darkening sky.)  I guess I really just would have liked to know more about the cultures that aren't my own, a remnant of my first perceptions of the film.

The cinematography is beautiful, but at times I found it distracting.  Much of the filming is from a static perspective--again, as if the shots were really moving pictures--with only occasional adjustment if the baby is about to crawl or walk off.  Because there's not a lot of dynamic movement of the frame or cutting between shots, I found my attention sometimes stretched a little in watching.  (ADD much?)  But each scene was short and charming.  The soundtrack is minimal and fairly unobtrusive.

I didn't feel that any one way was presented as better or worse in raising a child.  Rather I felt the film was a visual feast of food for thought.  Do we need to worry SO much about broad socialization when a small collection of families on the steppes appears perfectly well adjusted and there isn't another soul for miles in any direction?  Do we have to worry so much about keeping everything sanitary and neat when Namibian babies spend literally all day getting caked with dirt and chewing on discarded bones?  Granted, their rural lives are very different from our urban or suburban ones, but maybe some of the things we've decided are vitally important for health and well-being are in part making up for the things we've lost as we've moved away from the close, intimate connectedness our (even not-so-ancient) ancestors enjoyed.

As a side note, I fell in love with the Namibian mother.  Strong, beautiful, nurturing, loving, confident, graceful, goddess-like... she seemed to represent to me the essence of great motherhood and womanliness.  I felt like I wanted to sit in her circle and walk by her side and try to soak in some of her spirit.  She didn't have a care in the world that she looked nothing like a model or an actress or anyone else.  Her body was well used in the work of bringing up her children and you could tell she took much joy in it.

Ultimately, Babies lived up to its title; it was a film about the lives of the four babies featured.  Not their family or their culture or the politics of this or that.  Just the babies.  It's not the movie for everyone.  If you are not ga-ga over the adorable cuteness of babies and would not be content to spend 90 minutes of your life watching them without interruption, you might want to opt for another film.  (Even baby-geek that I am, I got a little impatient about the midway point.)  If you want a deep, political, explicit education on parenting or cultures around the world, you won't find it here.  What you will find is a gentle, charming film about loving families who all do things differently, squee-worthy baby antics, and a reminder that there are beautiful things in the world as long as we have babies.

Jena Vincent of Abundance Massage

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