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FP: Was the filming simultaneous, meaning were the babies all born around the same time?
TB: No, they were all one month apart, so there were three or four months between the youngest and oldest; and we showed only one birth, because the calculations were all very complicated. But we had a cameraperson there for one birth and we were happy to get it. It took about two years to film from start to finish.
FP: The camera didn’t seem to move at all and I kept wondering: Was there someone behind it at all times, or it is on a tripod?
TB: There always was a person behind the camera, and the camera was usually on a tripod. And the babies never noticed the camera, but sometimes the older brother or parents were aware and played a little bit with it. The film could only take place in this moment of life, with humans who are too young to notice; the film ends when the babies start to realize that they are being filmed.
FP: There were times, such as when the Mongolian baby was crawling around the field with the cattle, that I got a little scared! Did you feel like jumping in and helping sometimes?
TB: This is a question we get a lot: ‘Weren’t you afraid of the cattle stepping on the baby?’ But this is what the baby was doing on a daily basis. Yes, I was a bit afraid, too; but you could see that the cattle were very gentle with him and very aware of his fragileness. I didn’t interfere, and I’m happy I didn’t. We observed [the situation] for many months and we knew that there was nothing to fear. The cattle also were born around this situation. They have learned to interact very gently—also, they would not step on their own babies.
It was important for us to have this interaction in the movie. It showed that some babies don’t have many toys, but they have goats and cattle and dogs to play with.
FP: Do you have children?
TB: I have three children, ages 7, 5 and 3. The baby actually is the same age as the movie babies are now, so he could have been cast. But my wife did not like that idea.
FP: What’s the most surprising thing you learned making Babies?
TB: Most surprising is how we parents try to do too much and don’t leave enough emptiness in our kids’ lives. They need more moments of getting bored, and this is something that Western people like me forget. It definitely made me reconsider my relationship with my own kids, that maybe we shouldn’t always find ways to stimulate them. This is one of the big lessons in the film, how much attention is really necessary. We see the non-Western babies interacting with the world on their own, which I think gives them a huge autonomy. I admit, though, it’s easy to say but harder to do.
Also, I was surprised how the people in Namibia and Mongolia were so full of joy, living with very little and raising their children with no material goods at all. All of them the parents, too, were smiling all the time. Namibian mother was one of the most joyful people I’ve ever met.
FP: I noticed, too, that the Namibian mothers seemed to nurse many other babies along with their own.
TB: Yes! This is the way they function—it’s like an open bar, any baby passing by may eat. And everything seemed so relaxed. There is one segment, also, where you see all the babies saying “Mama” in a very similar manner. It’s completely universal.
FP: When I saw the movie, I laughed a lot.
TB: In a normal screening room, we hear lots of laughter, there’s a lot of humor that parents recognize. It’s not meant to document the different ways of raising a baby, really. And the accidents a baby may encounter are pure comedy. It’s wonderful that audiences get that.
Babies is a Focus Features presentation of a Chex Wam/StudioCanal co-production with the participation of Canal +. Executive producer, TBC Productions, Chez Wam. Original idea by Alain Chabat. Adapted and directed by Thomas Balmès, Edited by Craig McKay, ACE and Raymond Bertrand. Produced by Alain Chabat, Amandine Billot, Christine Rouxel. Music by Bruno Coullais.