All the World 'Round 'Babies' Are Alike

Renée Scolaro Mora

This is Babies' point, that our commonalities as human beings, at least in these early stages of life, far outweigh our differences.


Director: Thomas Balmès
Cast: Mari, Ponijao, Hattie, Bayar
Rated: PG
Studio: Focus Features
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-05-07 (General release)

Babies opens on two Namibian babies playing next to one another. Both covet a new plaything and a squabble ensues: pushing, screaming, biting, hitting, and some dramatic tears as the "loser" collapses in defeat, peeking up just once to make sure her mother is bearing witness to her tragedy. Though the girls are sitting in the dirt and playing with rocks and discarded plastic water bottles, theirs is an encounter that anyone who has ever spent five minutes with two toddlers might recognize.

And this is Babies' point, that our commonalities as human beings, at least in these early stages of life, far outweigh our differences. Directed and filmed by Thomas Balmès over several years, the movie tags along during the first year of life of four babies from four distinctly different locations: Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco. There is no narration and very little captured conversation. Long takes (some over three minutes long) make us wait for something to happen. It puts the viewer in the place of any adoring parent, watching over her child with unabashed fascination. It is also a welcome change from the usual rapid-fire visual onslaught.

Still, all filmmaking is manipulative. By focusing on the babies, most scenes include only parts of parents' bodies or exclude the parents outright. One effect is that the babies often appear to be alone (though they aren't) which in turn amps up the audience's connection with them. So, when Bayar in Mongolia is crawling amid a bunch of cattle that come dangerously close to stepping on him, we want to intervene since no one else is. Our response underscores our sameness, too, along with the families in the movie.

Such investment helps to shape our responses to the vastly different locations, all beautifully presented. We see similarities among the babies' home environments (daily routines of eating or bathing), and the children themselves observe and mimic their parents (that first scene of the children banging rocks together is them emulating their mother grinding ochre and clay). Their motor skills and language skills develop; they become aware of themselves as entities separate from their mothers. Indeed, no matter how different their specific locations, the most fascinating moments in the film come from the unavoidable comparisons. Ponijao's family lives in a very dusty environment and has to walk a considerable distance to water; her mother licks the newborn's eyes and face to keep the dirt out of them. This shot is juxtaposed with one of Hattie enjoying a shower or a dip in the hot tub with her mother.

The film also structures a lovely symmetry between some images, as when Hattie makes a big production of peeling her own banana in one scene, while in another Ponijao sits by her mother as she skins an animal. We can see connections in cuts between Tokyo, where Mari throws a flopping, screaming fit when she is frustrated by a toy, and Mongolia, where Bayar (who is tied to a bedpost to keep him from wandering too far) determinedly works to get hold of a roll of toilet paper he gleefully unravels and eats. Bayar and his brother are mostly left to entertain themselves in the family's yurt while their parents tend to the cattle. Mari and Hattie, on the other hand, are constantly toted along to play dates and play groups and seem to be far less able to entertain themselves. All these images help us see the ways babies are alike even in their differences.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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