Sunday, May 16, 2010

Babies, the film

"font-w The documentary, Babies, has no narrative at all; there is barely audible background music and the sounds babies make, some random speech by mothers or fathers, but very little. A montage of shots, some very short, of four babies as they progress through the first 18 months of their lives.

The fascination is partly the rapid growth from newborn to toddlers with definite characters already displayed in their interactions with their surroundings. Equally fascinating is how four different societies treat childhood: Singapore, San Francisco, Namibia [a two or three hut village] and Mongolia [a single nomad's ger on the steppes]. I wish a somewhat less affluent place than Singapore had been shown like a smaller village in Southeast Asia in Indonesia oR India.

The film wss made up of wonderful vignettes, some so short they were just glimpses. In both the Mongolian and Namibian families we saw sibling interactions which were fairly benign even when rivalry was clear. In these two we also saw the children interacting with all sorts of animals whereas the other two children had only cats -- all the cats were wonderfully patient and serene. Fathers [except in Namibia] were occasionally present. All the families seemed comfortable in a "middle class" sense. Without narrative of any kind we were left to reach our own conclusions. I have been to all these places and bring a slightly different perspective than will most viewers.

Having a brand new baby in our family, Rachel and I brought that perspective also -- as she mentioned on the drive there, seeing little Finn change almost daily brings back her memories of being a new mother, and I can say the same. The Namibian mother lived near another woman with several small children so they were an intertwined group. The Mongolian woman was often absent, doing outdoors chores like milking, the other two mothers were part of young parents' groups with more involved husbands. The thoughts keep ticking away -- we don't need to have been told what to think ... it's good to have the thinking prompted in this way.

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