Blu-Ray Review: ‘Babies’ Benefits, Suffers From Limitations

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionE-mail page to friendE-mail page to friendPDF versionPDF version
No votes yet

CHICAGO – Couples making plans to start a family may get a kick out of “Babies,” the lyrical new documentary from French filmmaker Thomas Balmès. Everyone else may find themselves bored stiff. The film is an intriguing experiment with varying degrees of success. It’s as tedious as it is compelling and as annoying as it is insightful.

Universal marketed the picture as the next “March of the Penguins,” with the key exception that it features humans. The film also doesn’t include narration by Morgan Freeman, which may be a plus, considering how hackneyed it would be to hear The Actor Frequently Known as God pontificating on the profundity of infant behavior. In fact, “Babies” contains no narration whatsoever. It simply observes four babies in different parts of the world during their first year of life. Balmès and his team of collaborators have constructed a portrait that plays like cinematic poetry at best, glorified home videos at worst. Blu-Ray Rating: 2.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 2.5/5.0

The goal of cinematographers Jérôme Alméras, Frazer Bradshaw, Steeven Petitteville and Eric Turpin is to make the viewers feel as if they are experiencing the world from the perspective of a one-year-old. Many of the shots are placed at the level of the babies themselves, as they observe the strange and heightened world of a supermarket, or marvel at their own reflections in a mirror. The babies are introduced as Ponijao from Nambia, Bayarjargal (Bayar) from Mongolia, Mari from Tokyo, and Hattie from San Francisco. Their behavior is logged in such a candid, detailed way that the film feels flat-out voyeuristic at times.

The filmmakers’ objective lens occasionally seems to juxtapose (and parallel) the infants with surrounding house pets and other animals wandering into the frame (the parents are often heard reprimanding them like children). The sound of babies wailing is certainly not among the most pleasant to hear, and you’re guaranteed to hear quite a bit of it in this film. Several sequences border on monotonous, as editors Reynald Bertrand and Craig McKay take an overly fragmented approach to the material, cutting scenes before they can resonate as anything other than cute diversions.

Ponijao is one of four infants profiled in Thomas Balmès’s documentary Babies.
Ponijao is one of four infants profiled in Thomas Balmès’s documentary Babies.
Photo credit: Universal Home Entertainment

Yet the strength of this film lies in its moments of small epiphanies, of which there are not enough. As “Babies” progresses, the personalities of its pint-sized subjects begin to emerge, through subtle body language and facial nuances that are utterly magical to behold. Watching these children start to develop thoughts and problem solve is the true pleasure of this film. There’s a moment when Mari struggles to put together a puzzle of blocks until she throws the pieces in exasperation, desperate to unlock the mystery. Bayar is bullied by his older brother, who slaps him with a scarf until he starts to cry. The camera stays on the kid’s tear-streaked face as he witnesses his jealous sibling getting a verbal beat-down from his parents. The film’s final shot of Bayar finally standing on his own two feet is priceless. But these scenes are ultimately too little too late. By the end, I felt like Hattie, as she runs to escape another parent-baby exercise class. There’s simply not enough here to warrant a recommendation to anyone other than aspiring mothers and fathers.

Babies was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Sept. 28, 2010.
Babies was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Sept. 28, 2010.
Photo credit: Universal Home Entertainment

“Babies” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio), and includes the typical Universal features, including pocket BLU and social BLU apps. The BD-live enabled disc offers crystalline picture quality, but very few extras, none of which provide any further insight into the filmmaker’s intentions. A 4-minute featurette is little more than an extended version of the film’s ending credits montage, which shows footage of the children three years later. Balmès is seen visiting the families and showing them the film on his laptop. They love it, of course (after all, it does star their children). There’s also a super-brief featurette revealing the winners of the “Everybody Loves Your Babies Sweepstakes,” in which fans submitted photos and videos of their own favorite tykes.

Yet here’s the most perplexing part of the disc: it contains no subtitles indicating what the grown-ups are saying, with the notable exception of the English-speaking parents. Thus, the viewer is not allowed to truly explore the complexities of the different cultures, and their varying methods of bringing up children. When a foreign dialect is heard, it’s aggravating to have subtitles treat it like just another sound effect, or more specifically, an action verb. A character’s voice is often accompanied by the subtitle, “(speaking in local language).” Balmès probably wants this imposed limitation to force viewers to experience the world as a baby would. Of course, all babies share the same language: babble. Yet it’s a shame that most viewers won’t be able to understand at least three of these families. This limitation results in the viewer feeling distanced from the human subjects, unable to fully share in their experiences.

‘Babies’ is released by Universal Home Entertainment. It was written by Thomas Balmès and Alain Chabat and directed by Thomas Balmès. It was released on Sept. 28th, 2010. It is rated PG. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

User Login

Free Giveaway Mailing


  • Innocence of Seduction, The

    CHICAGO – Society, or at least certain elements of society, are always looking for scapegoats to hide the sins of themselves and authority. In the so-called “great America” of the 1950s, the scapegoat target was comic books … specifically through a sociological study called “The Seduction of the Innocent.” City Lit Theater Company, in part two of a trilogy on comic culture by Mark Pracht, presents “The Innocence of Seduction … now through October 8th, 2023. For details and tickets, click COMIC BOOK.

  • Sarah Slight Raven Theatre 2023

    CHICAGO – On July 1st, 2023, Sarah Slight was named Artistic Director of the Raven Theatre, beginning with the 41st Season, which begins October 5th with Lucille Fletcher’s from-Broadway thriller “Night Watch.” In 2024, the season will continue with two original commissioned stage plays, Paul Michael Thomson’s ‘brother sister cyborg space’ in February and the final installment of the Grand Boulevard Trilogy, “The Prodigal Daughter,” by Joshua Allen. For all information and tickets, click RAVEN.

Advertisement on Twitter

archive Top Ten Discussions