Look out "Iron Man," here come the "Babies"

Fri May 7, 2010 4:41pm EDT
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By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Here's a movie idea to make a studio executive's head spin: document the raising of four babies in four countries, offer no dialogue and ask audiences to show up in theaters against big-budget "Iron Man 2."

"Babies," which opened on Friday in the United States and Canada does exactly that and is winning many good reviews. Focus Features, the specialty film label of giant Universal Pictures, hopes it can be the next "March of the Penguins."

"Penguins," about emperor penguins fighting for survival and raising their young in Antarctica, was similarly an odd choice for movie theaters, but it earned a strong following and became a major hit in 2005. It won the Oscar for best documentary and earned $127 million at global box offices.

In fact, the "Babies" makers explain their movie as a sort of wildlife film about humans -- from birth until the time they take their first steps -- and what plays out for audiences is a glimpse into how world communities may be very different, but human nature is very much the same across borders.

"My work has always been very broad and I look and try to understand how other cultures are living," director Thomas Balmes told Reuters.

Balmes, a Frenchman whose previous work such as "A Decent Factory" similarly looked at cultural differences, spent two years traveling to Namibia, Mongolia, Japan and the United States to film the babies in each of their families.

In Namibia, the child Ponijao is raised by her family in a hut near Opuwo. The baby Bayarjargal lives on a farm in a tent near Bayanchandmani, Mongolia. The children in Tokyo, Japan and in San Francisco, United States, get a more urban upbringing that will be familiar to Western audiences.

Balmes said all the families live comfortably in their particular surroundings, but none are meant to be completely representative of their country's entire culture.   Continued...