I had a pleasant but unchallenging time at the Sydney Film Festival yesterday. It was probably good it was unchallenging, because I was quite exhausted by house selling and renovation preparation tasks by the time I made it to the movies.
First I saw 'Babies' (do watch the trailer attached), a French documentary that scores very high on the charm factor. It traces four babies - from Namibia, Mongolia, Japan and the USA from birth till they learn to walk. There's no narrative and no obvious 'point of view', but it is immediately clear that the film is carefully edited and highly crafted. The film-makers must have taken endless hours of film to capture the moments you see in the film. I'm a sucker for anything to do with comparative views and interpretations of child-rearing. Those of you who have heard me hold forth on this will know this well. Given that so many people around the world survive their particular forms of child-rearing with overall adequate outcomes, I've always been skeptical of theories that claim to know the best ways to raise children. You can see why 'Babies' was a must for me.
This film takes an easy starting point. The four babies we see are all healthy and well (though sometimes challengingly) fed. All are in clearly caring, positive relationships with their families and communities. But beyond this, the babies are raised quite differently. I suspect you would take away from this film whatever it is that confirms your starting prejudices. I particularly liked the sections that showed different attitudes to challenge and 'danger' - for example I loved the Mongolian child crawling outside his family's yurt and surrounded by the family's cattle; and was interested in the scenes that dealt with dirt - such as the Namibian child picking up stones and old bones from the ground and sucking on them. All the audience reacted with delight to the many episodes that dealt with the babies' interactions with family pets and other animals, and to the power relationships with older siblings and the strategies chosen to deal with them.
I've said before that I don't do 'cute' well. Despite myself, I was charmed by this film. I think it says that you can make many valid choices about the way you raise your babies, and that they'll still learn to sit up and speak and walk and relate and explore the world around them at roughly the same time. But I know others have taken away different interpretations. This is not a great film, but it is fun. A 3.5 out of 5.
I also saw 'Cairo Time', that Jody has seen and already reviewed - unfavourably. I think this movie would qualify, for me, as a guilty pleasure. I would probably pay good money to hear Patricia Clarkson, who plays the central character, read the phone book, and I was charmed by the performance of Alexander Siddiq, the male lead. I thought both their performances were nuanced and understated and I was beguiled by the basic circumstance - two people attracted by one another and by the gulf of the unknown between them, but aware they both have love and loyalty for the woman's husband. But having said all that, this is not a particularly good film. The presence of Cairo, while vital for the plot, is greatly overplayed. While the film did make me want to visit Cairo, I found the beauty of the landscape, and the photographer's lengthy flirtation with it, distracted from the film's narrative. There are lots of missed opportunities. Juliette's (the Patricia Clarkson character) marginal status gives opportunities to glimpse different layers of society within Cairo. I would hate to be preached at about the messages I should take from these encounters, but I think the screenplay and /or director left too many interpretations and conclusions up to the viewer.
For me, a film I enjoyed despite its imperfections. A 3 out of 5. More tomorrow!