Babies

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What, if anything, pre-exists culture?

The question of what is “innate” in us as humans and what is simply the effect of our unique cultural context has long stood firm and unanswered. So while he might not have solved the debate, Thomas Balmès, the director of the documentary Bébés(Babies), is on the right track. Balmès gives us a look into the first year of life of four babies from around the globe: one from San Francisco, one from Tokyo, one from Mongolia, and one from Namibia. As each place differs greatly from the others in terms of everything culture, I think you’ll discover there is something innate in these four babies that, while not resistant to culture, is captured before culture fully takes hold.

The film is almost entirely void of dialogue and is made of simple images of these four babies taking part in everyday experiences. If the film doesn’t exactly seem like a “page turner” (or whatever it is we call a movie that we can’t stop watching), it’s because it’s not. What will grab you is the simple beauty of connection despite – and because of – our culture.

In an interview with the NY Times, Balmès, who had only made rather serious documentaries until this one, claimedBabies was the closest thing to a real documentary that he’s ever done. This alone is an interesting lens through which to see the film.

Mr. Balmès also said, “We wanted to be there the first time certain things happened, the first time each baby heard music or started to walk. We were hoping for small miracles. Because you cannot set up babies. You have to wait, and watch, and make sure you’re in the right place at the right time.”

Babies, culture, documentary, miracles. Cue oohs and ahhs.