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If Your Biological Clock Is Ticking, Here's an Aw-Shucks Movie for You
on May 8, 2010
I am probably not the best person to review Thomas Balmes' 2010 documentary following the lives of four babies during their first year. The film is only 79 minutes, but it feels awfully long to this childless reviewer especially since it carries the randomness of a string of related YouTube videos. However, I am not a complete curmudgeon since there are several moments of delight to be found in Balmes' extended-shot approach which rarely goes above the eye-line of an infant. The director goes to four distinct places to highlight cultural dissimilarities and the universality of babies' experiences in responding to the world around them - pastoral Mongolia, heavily urban Tokyo, the Namibian desert, and kid-friendly San Francisco. There is no voiceover narration, just the gurgling noises, crying jags and first words from the babies in a fashion closer to a wildlife documentary.
As for the babies who could technically be up for leading-category Oscars, there is Mari of Tokyo, who appears to show both a contemplative curiosity about the family cat and an artist's temperament in her epic fit when she falls to the floor and pounds her legs on the playroom floor. Hattie of San Francisco takes to her jumpy chair and her playground race car like Evel Kneival and actually has the film's funniest scene when she tries to escape her parents as they perform an unbearably pretentious Native American earth chant. Bayarjargal of Mongolia displays the most perseverance as he confronts the mayhem caused by a bullying older brother, thirsty goat, and an aggressive rooster. However, it's Ponijao of Namibia who steals the movie as the model of stoicism as she replicates her mother's domestic actions with just pebbles, dirt and the occasional piece of food. In fact, you might be amazed like me at how self-sufficient all these adorable babies are.