Kisses are universal according to Ponijao and her mom
Chances are you’ve heard about the movie Babies. If not, consider yourself informed. This documentary from Focus Features follows four little ones from four different countries — Namibia, Japan, Mongolia, and the US — from birth past their first birthdays. It is, in a word, heartwarming. When a friend sent me the trailer a couple months ago, I watched it at least three times, and for the next week insisted that everyone had to watch it. It infuses you with a very particular joy; the kind of joy inspired by babies, doing baby things, in their adorable baby way (like my daughter-log rolling towards me in her sleep as I type). The tagline says it all: Everyone loves babies.
The only thing that was going to make this movie better was getting to see it with a bunch of babies. And wouldn’t you know it, Upstate Films in Rhinebeck made that very thing happen with a BYOB (bring your own baby) screening of the film last week. There were babies crawling in between the seats, nursing in the aisles — the energy was infectious. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had at the movies. Beautifully shot, and simply presented, the film is really nothing more than congruous clips of these four babies sleeping, playing, watching, nursing, crawling. The only dialogue is when an adult speaks to them, and there is no contrived story line; it doesn’t need one. The story is inherent, and the lessons complex and thought-provoking.
At lunch after the film, my friend commented how watching the movie made her ask, “Wow, why do I freak about the things I do?” As American mothers, it was incredibly interesting to view an objective cross section of our cultural parenting juxtaposed so clearly against three others. Honestly, it’s funny that we call anything we do “natural” parenting considering what other practices are out there. The mother in Namibia wipes her baby’s poopy bottom on her knee then brushes it off with a corncob. Mongolian Bayar is given a piece of what appears to be lard with a matchstick through it in lieu of a pacifier. He is also left alone in a yurt, swaddled tightly atop a bed (with a rooster) while his parents work; when he is just a little older, he is left tied to the leg of that same bed. Watching these things, the reaction is not horror or disbelief, but as indifferent as if you’d seen it a thousand times before because what is organically highlighted is the similarities more than the differences. The babies all eat, sleep, poop, and throw tantrums. They all teethe, crawl, and get into mischief. They are all cleaned, scolded, and snuggled. They all eventually take triumphant first steps. Their families all love them. They all grow up.
Babies is showing at Upstate Films until May 27. And according to staff, they are considering incorporating more BYOB movie screenings into their regular schedule — check it out!