Ponijao, who lies in Namibia, is one of four babies followed from birth to first steps in "Babies." (Focus Features)
Blessed with no narration, an absence of gimmickry and an embracing love for its subject matter, "Babies" is as sweet, joyful and filled with curiosity as a you-know-what.
Frenchman Thomas Balmes turned his camera for a year on four babes born into very different circumstances and cultures, and the result is a study in both development and the commonality of the human experience. Along the way, it's really, really cute, too.
Ponijao (boy) is born in a hut in remote Africa, surrounded by a dusty terrain. Mari (girl) is born in high-tech Tokyo. Bayar (boy) calls the plains of Mongolia home. And Hattie (girl) is raised in San Francisco.
Hattie has hot tubs and earth-consciousness classes, while Ponijao crawls around in dirt and chews on whatever finds its way into his mouth. Bayar puts up with cattle, cats and a rowdy brother while crawling naked across rangeland, and Mari is spoiled with a life of crowded comfort and bright-colored toys.
But they all progress in the inexorable way tykes (hopefully) do, becoming ever more aware, more curious, more daring. Life, Balmes seems to be saying, is as same as it is different, and we are all joined by these waking experiences.
The nice thing, though, is that Balmes says nothing of the kind; he just lets the film work as his proof. There is no overbearing point or moral to this story; it is just the story of us all, which is one heck of a point.
Oh, sure, the film is being marketed to mothers this Mother's Day weekend, moms having much to do with kids. But then this is ground we've all crossed. Who won't smile in appreciation?