This is Ron Salfen, “At The
Movies,” and here’s my commentary on a film opening this week at The
Angelika Theater in
Part “National Geographic” feel,
part documentary-like. Completely
family-centered, in that it’s totally about families relating to one
another, and yet it also contains rather stark images of female nudity.
International in scope, and yet oh-so-specific and limited.
Very little dialogue, with foreign languages remaining untranslated,
and quiet interludes of non-invasive musical background, no familiar voices
or bands, please.
“Babies” is truly unique.
They take four pregnant women: one
from Africa, one from Mongolia, one from San Francisco, and one from Tokyo,
and they take turns following these four women through late pregnancy,
childbirth, breastfeeding and nurturing their babies until they’re
literally at the point where they’re ready to stand on their own.
Then it’s over. There’s
no real moral to the story. There’s
no obvious political agenda. There’s
no fancy computer graphic imagery; no
techno-wizard filmmaking or big-name
actors. This is simple, stark,
individual, and determinedly focused.
In the pre-release screening which
this reviewer attended, there were some people who left early because they
were not interested in the subject matter.
There was some tittering and nervous laughter about the casual nudity
(both of some of the mothers and their babies).
But you could also sense the many of the audience were really
beginning to appreciate this film on its own terms.
They’d become accustomed to the quiet presentation, and the
deliberate pacing. They’d
become enamored with these babies, and the way they were developing,
literally before our marveling eyes. And
yes, there was even some pathos (watching one of the babies get whacked by
an older sibling, and another one accidentally falling), and even a little
humor (watching one toddler try to run out of the room during an
uncomfortably presumptuous consciousness-raising session).
We squirm while one Mother spanks her toddler for spilling a drink.
We groan with anticipation while cows converge on another toddler,
perilously close to stepping on his foot.
And we marvel at the tremendous contrast between the world-views
represented here. The scene
from the African bush feels like it could have been forty years ago or four
hundred years ago or four thousand years ago.
Technology seems to have bypassed this remote Namibian village of
grass huts and goatherding. The
only conveyance we see anywhere is a group of boys passing by on donkeys.
, the scenery is pristine valley surrounded by majestic peaks, and yet there
are also some motorized vehicles, and a television.
The families in both
are much more “modern,” with all the evident technology and teeming
urban context. Obviously, those
children will be raised with much more cultural advancement, and probably
mental stimulation, as well (their parents were already reading books to
their babies, even if all the teething toddlers seemed to be interested in
was eating the books instead).
And yet, the overwhelming impression,
at the end, was of the utter universality of the human family.
All societies have babies, and all nurture their young.
All are eager to impart their love to the new generation.
All have their hopes for the future invested in these precious
babies. And, in a world filled
with dread and uncertainty and danger and prophecies of doom, here is our
hope, as well: in the innocent babies of the generation to come.
This is Ron Salfen, “At The
Movies,” for 93.5 KICK-FM