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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘BABIES’ director examines place

    Maybe you don’t like babies. But if a film that gets at the heart of place and what it means to grow and develop in a changing world piques your interest, then Thomas Balmès’ documentary “”BABIES”” should still strike a chord.

    “”BABIES,”” according to the film’s press release, “”simultaneously follows four babies around the world — from birth to first steps.””

    And though the children are rooted in specific cultures and locations worldwide — Ponijao with her family near Opuwo, Namibia; Bayarjargal with his family in Mongolia; Mari with her family in Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie with her family in the United States — the selection process had less to do with the where and more to do with their commonalities.

    In casting the mothers and children, Balmès said the idea was “”not so much connected to where they were coming from … the idea was much more to find something in their relationship with the environment. … So (he) wanted to find something universal in their relationship with what it means to raise a kid in a Western environment.””

    Additionally, he was interested in “”the relationship they had with technical things, technical tools and modernity, more than anything specifically connected to the country itself.””

    With three children of his own and four families to film, Balmès was exhausted by the time the filming — 80 percent of which he did himself — was complete.

    “”It was like running a marathon. It was like two years of my life,”” Balmès said. “”(I was) spending more time with these four kids than my three kids.””

    During his time with each family, Balmès tried not to be too disruptive, a courtesy that proved challenging in Mari and her family’s tiny Tokyo apartment.

    “”We had to be sure that any of these families for a reason or another didn’t change their mind in the process of shooting, so I had to keep on having the best relationship with them,”” Balmès said.

    While he was flying from place to place, traveling almost, as his doctor put it, as strenuously as an astronaut, Balmès tried not to intrude on his subjects’ lives and attempted to capture the humanity and connections between the four babies. Throughout it all, Balmès took the time to reflect on himself as a father.

    “”I could see myself when I was looking at the Japanese father taking care of his baby and at the same time doing a phone call to someone … and almost never really being with your child and just being so much surrounded by these tools, these TVs, these cars, these phones and all that.””

    In many instances, Balmès said, “”the kids were just left by themselves to just see the world, feel the grass, feel the wind and being able to play with virtually nothing else than the flies … and nevertheless how they were growing up and developing themselves in the most beautiful way.””

    Balmès hopes his decision to leave the film free of narration will guide the viewer into a perspective as old as it is unique — that of a baby.

    “”All of the film is being shot on the level of the babies,”” Balmès said, “”and I felt this was the best way to really get into their world and see the world through their eyes. You are suddenly, for 90 minutes, being able to get in a point of view that you had like 20, 30 years before.””

    Balmès used another technique to ensure his film came across accurately and with as much purity as possible. In his 20 years of filmmaking, he has never shot in his native France.

    “”Things which are too close from you — and you know exactly like from when you take a piece of paper and you try just to put it five millimeters in front of your eyes, you can’t read — in the same way I feel … that distance is very interesting and not knowing almost anything of all of these cultures can allow you to look at them differently with no agenda.””

    Really, Balmès said, “”BABIES”” started with the goal of revealing universality among children and families worldwide. The point was never to shed light on the nuances of different types of people.

    “”I wanted them to be speaking for their environments more than for their culture,”” Balmès said.

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