A French documentary film-maker looks at the first year of life for babies in four environments:  San Francisco, Tokyo, Mongolia and Namibia.  Many have looked for political subtext in the choice of subjects, but I think this film is best just enjoyed for itself.  The artistry in this kind of film is in the cutting, and the film-maker does a marvelous job.  The American mother hypercleaning her daughter’s environment (even de-linting the baby’s clothes) is juxtaposed with the Namibian mother cleaning her son with her tongue.  The Japanese baby surrounded by hypervigilant adults is followed by shots of the Mongolian baby left alone with some pretty scary-looking farm animals.  

I was particularly interested in the scenes showing the babies learning to walk.  Research has shown that Africans rarely have back problems, which many have speculated is the result of their superior posture.  It was interesting, therefore, to watch the little Namibian boy, just learning to walk, being given a small basket by his mother to balance on his head.

But the most startling cross-cultural moment was the most unexpected.  The Mongolian mother, after wrapping her newborn in tightly swaddling clothes, returns home on back of a motorcyle. Yowza — don’t they use stitches in Mongolia?  ;-/

The movie is more interesting than I thought it would be, and, at 80 minutes, it won’t wear out its welcome.

Mademoiselle Chambon

A French construction worker living in a small town in France meets his son’s elementary school teacher, a beautiful Parisienne from a wealthy family with a musical background. They have nothing in common, and he’s married, to a nice if somewhat dull woman, so of course nothing happens, right?  ;-/

This is the kind of movie about the complexities of human relationships that the French excel at. Sandrine Kiberlain, who plays the teacher, is not only beautiful to look at, but has a remarkably expressive face (which is good, because there’s not much meaningful dialogue.) The movie manages the difficult feat of portraying a good but not great marriage, without ignoring the very real issues that many such marriages face. It’s a great alternative to the dreary and often emotionaly fraudulent “romantic comedies” put out by American film-makers.

Cairo Time

An American woman arrives in Cairo expecting to meet her husband.  But her husband is delayed on business, so he sends an (unattached male) friend to pick her up at the airport. Of course, she loves her husband. Of course, the guy has an old girlfiend who was recently widowed.  So when the two people find themselves touring Cairo together, there’s no problem, right?   

Patricia Clarkson is particularly fine as the woman at a crossroads. Alexander Siddig, last seen as the democracy-loving desert prince in Syriana, is also good as the soulful Egyptian. Both are excellent at communicating what is going on in their heads by looks and gestures  Nothing much seems to happen, but nevertheless, everything changes.

The uncredited co-star of the film is the city of Cairo itself. The folks who made this movie clearly love the city, and give us not just a travelogue, but a glimpse of the culture of the city — how life is actually lived — that most tourists would never see.  I particularly liked the scene where Clarkson, who has had difficulty walking around by herself without getting bothered by men, discovers accidentally that if she wears a headscarf men leave her alone.