If this little guy, Bayar, doesn’t steal your heart during the 70-minute documentary “Babies” then you simply don’t have one. Bayar, who lives in a yurt in Mongolia, is one of four babies featured in this wildlife documentary style movie. It’s not that the other babies aren’t cute, it’s that Bayar has the most winning expressions and seems to get in the most fixes. You see him watching wide-eyed as a chicken struts across his bed, sitting in a tin bathtub when a goat comes up behind him to drink from his bath water and being swatted in the face repeatedly by an older brother.
Ponijao, the baby being raised in Namibia, provides even greater contrast from the babyhoods we know around here. There’s a sequence when the three other babies are shown observing their cats. Cut to Ponijao, who is transfixed on a swarm of the omnipresent flies.
“Babies,” brilliantly timed for release on Mother’s Day weekend, was the big hit at the Clairidge on Sunday. The 3:45 p.m. show was sold out half an hour ahead. At the 4:45 p.m., a very loud youngster in the back added to the merriment with his glee. “A chicken in the bed!” he cackled, and it was hard to decide what was most charming, the narration behind me or what was happening on screen.
The audience I sat with was half children. The movie is rated PG, because of the extensive footage of breasts in Namibia. It’s nothing you wouldn’t see in National Geographic, but we can imagine children of a certain age being mightily embarrassed.
While the film is endearing, it can be disturbing. It’s shot at baby-eye level with an unflinching hand, and sometimes you wonder how the cinematographer could have held back from rushing in to help the babies. (You understand why, just not how.) My 21-year-old found the scenes with Bayar upsetting because it seemed to her that he was “raising himself.” Many people will also find it off-putting to see Ponijao eating straight out of the dirt.
Hattie and Mari, the baby girls from San Francisco and Tokyo, will seem much more familiar — and you may go away finding the sanitized version of babyhood disappointingly bland. But there’s a great scene when Mari has some frustration playing with some toys and throws a gigantic tantrum. Clearly, this little baby had high expectations for herself! It’s close-ups like these that make you appreciate the force of character that even small pre-verbal creatures possess.