Because it is a college town, I suppose, Charlottetown, PEI has more to offer from a cultural perspective than many other towns of its size (about 40,000 hardy souls). One of its attractions to locals and tourists alike is the diminutive City Cinema, which occupies a small corner of an office building near the bottom of Queen Street by Charlottetown Harbour. It’s not easy to find, but well worth the search. City Cinema, like others of its ilk, shows foreign films, indie flicks, and movies that might well never make it to DVD, so I (a card-carrying cinema junkie) make it a point to go there regularly when I am on the island.
This past week, one of the two offerings was a French film titled simply, Babies. Directed by Thomas Balmes, it followed the lives of four babies from birth (or just before) to their first birthdays (or, as the trailer says, “from first breath to first steps”). The babies, Bayar (from Mongolia), Ponijao (from Namibia), Hattie (from San Francisco) and Mari (from Tokyo), could scarcely have been less alike in terms of circumstances, the disparity ranging from a mud hut in southern Africa to a luxo-apaato (apartment) in Japan. Despite that, they were remarkably alike in their world view, which was, by and large, sunny.
There is no dialog to speak of, and what little there is, is baby talk (both from the babies and the adults). Balmes films from some remove, via telephoto lens, so as not to be intrusive, and for the most part he succeeds. He clearly has an agenda, juxtaposing as he does the privilege of First World kids with unannounced segues into the hardscrabble lives of the Third World babies. And, I have to say, Balmes is nothing if not persuasive. Bayar and Ponijao appear to be having about as much fun toddling around desert or steppes as Mari and Hattie are having being chauffeured around their respective cities in high-tech strollers. Of course that begs the question, what will their lives be like in five years, or ten, or twenty?
As is the case with all babies, I suspect, there are moments of hilarity and terror, both for the kids themselves, and for those assigned to look after them. There is a scene in which Bayar lies helplessly mute on his blanket, watching cautiously while a thoroughly unpleasant rooster trundles back and forth in front of him, seemingly daring Bayar to raise any sort of ruckus. In another scene, the plucky Mongolian baby ventures forth into the family’s corral, where he meanders between the legs of inattentive cows, engendering a collective gasp from the conservative PEI audience (although one or two guys, including me, were cheering him on!).
Babies is the sort of movie you go to with several close friends; after it is over, you adjourn to the local Starbuck’s and have a lively discussion about what you have witnessed. I can virtually guarantee that the discourse will be spirited, and that you will not forget the experience for a very long time to come.