You’d have to have a heart of stone not to smile through most of Babies. After all, the documentary follows four adorable, curious tykes as they toddle, drool and laugh their way through their first year of life.
Filming the babies in their homes in Namibia, Mongolia, San Francisco and Tokyo, French filmmaker Thomas Balmes lovingly captures little moments that mean a lot—whether it’s Ponijao, the Namibian baby, drinking from a tiny stream in her village, or Hattie, the American baby, systematically peeling a banana and separating the good parts from the bad. Those moments feel even more poignant and special because there is no narration; only bits of adult conversation (none of which is translated). This works both for and against the film: We learn about the babies’ behavior and personalities alongside their parents—almost as if we were watching a wildlife doc with the sound turned off, but even at a modest 79 minutes, the film feels long. Aside from showing us the human connection that breaches even the largest cultural differences, the beautifully shot film says little else.
True to the lives of babies, curiosity and humor plays a big role in Babies. In one scene, Bayar, the Mongolian son of nomadic goat herders, unspools an entire roll of toilet paper, and then proceeds to eat some; in another, Mari, the Japanese child, rolls around on the floor in frustration after repeatedly trying to put together a building block toy, then gets up and tries again and again. Pets are sorely tested by babies who pull and drag them around. There are also moments of sibling rivalry, as with Bayar’s big brother, who excels at making him cry. These are poignant moments that point to our shared human legacy. Some of us may spread red ochre and oil on our babies eyes and then lick it off to ward off infection (Namibia) while others may have to take our kids to a Mommy and Me group to participate in a sing-along about Mother Earth (San Francisco); but in the end, we all pretty much grow the same way. Babies opens in limited release this Friday, May 7th across the U.S.