It's still not showing in Austin. But here's a review from someone who has seen it.
French director Thomas Balmes brings us the daily ins and outs, from mundane moments to milestones, of four infants living disparate lives: Ponijao, a girl from Namibia; Mari, a baby girl in Tokyo; Hattie from San Francisco, and Bayarjargal, the only boy (and the biggest scene-stealer) in Mongolia. Balmes does this without narration, without marking the passage of time or even subtitles to clarify what's being said; then again, there are very few words. Instead, he roams from one baby to the next as they cry, eat, sleep, play and — eventually — crawl, stand up and walk.
It's a bold storytelling approach: Balmes runs the risk of alienating his audience members, the vast majority of whom won't be able to understand what's being said. "Babies" frequently lacks momentum because there's no strong narrative drive, just an easy, casual stroll from baby to baby, moment to moment. Then again, the familiarity of infancy emerges in time. When a mother assuages her child on an African plane or in a Japanese high-rise, it's clear what she's saying.
At the same time, the differences are striking. Helicopter parenting doesn't seem to exist in Mongolia, for example, where adorable Bayarjargal crawls out by himself into a scruffy field in the sunshine wearing nothing but a T-shirt and a diaper. Soon he's surrounded by cattle, all of whom seem to know instinctively to step carefully around this delicate creature, to protect him. When Ponijao bends down to sip water from a stream in the desert, you can almost hear the moms in the audience cringing because it's not sanitary.
But parents in the United States will also get a kick out of Hattie's reaction when her mom drags her to a crunchy-granola, mommy-and-me song circle. Her instinct is to run screaming for the door. (Smart cookie. Learning early.) Similarly, Mari has a prolonged and hilarious tantrum when she can't figure out how to stack a series of blocks in her bedroom. These are little people with big personalities, and Balmes lucked out in finding them; after all, he arranged to film these families while the babies were still in the womb.
Balmes shot nearly all this footage himself, 400 hours of it, all on a tripod, and the stillness of the lengthy moments that result can be mesmerizing. In crisp high definition and accompanied by Bruno Coulais' gorgeous score, he shows us everything from grand vistas of the Mongolian planes to nighttime quiet of a Namibian family's hut.
Read the full review by Christy Lemire of the Associated Press: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/36927429