Babies directed by Thomas Balmés (Focus Features, 2010)
French filmmaker Thomas Balmés had a simple and brilliant idea: Put four babies in front of a camera for the first year of their lives and just sit back and watch in wonder.
Of course anyone who has ever been forced to sit through more than 20 minutes of a neighbor's home movies of their toddlers knows that Balmés and his crews had to do a little more than just let the cameras roll. Editing four years of filming into a two-hour narrative exploring the genuinely miraculous development of four remarkably distinct yet strikingly similar little humans took more than a bit of the curiosity, intellect, patience, and passion Balmés shows in his presentation of these babies.
In Babies we travel to Mongolia, Namibia, Tokyo, and San Francisco to meet Bayarjargal, Ponijao, Mari, and Hattie, four tykes growing up in vastly different societies, learning language, culture, coordination, and social skills at a speed that would terrify a downhill racer.
While scientists tell us that humans take much longer than other species to grow into adulthood, one can't help but marvel as these four babies struggle to master a myriad of human skills learned over millennia, all before they reach their first birthday. Watching these tiny fragile creatures stumble, grasp, struggle, play, and cry into an amazingly unfolding humanity puts all those accelerated clips of opening flowers to shame.
As any parent will tell you, these babies are unique and dazzling right from the start. And for all their frailty and smallness, they are each a human dynamo, endlessly curious about and engaged with the world around them, probing, testing, and (especially) tasting everything they can make contact with, while trying to figure out how to deal with a wide collection of other humans and critters who come into their space.
You won't regret the time you spend in their company.
This article appeared in the July 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 7, page 42).