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Casa de Los Babys

  Casa de Los Babys
Mary Steenburgen can't help but smile when she thinks of the residuals from "Becker"

© 2003, IFC Films
All Rights Reserved

In an unnamed South American country, six women (Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen, a delightfully despicable Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lili Taylor, and Susan Lynch) have formed a community as they wait in a hotel for word on their potential adoptions. Discovering deep secrets about each other, learning the history of their surroundings, and dealing with the local rules and regulations, the women are actually just a small part of a bigger picture of the adoption process.

Watching a John Sayles film is like taking a flight to another land. This is the first review I've been able to write about a Sayles picture, after having been an admirer of his work and being thoroughly blown away by his 1996 southern justice tale, "Lone Star." Whether it's returning to the disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox in "Eight Men Out," staging an Alaskan thriller in "Limbo," or delving into the degenerative effects of corporate Florida tourism in last year's "Sunshine State," Sayles can be counted on for enlightening stories reaching the far corners of the globe, about people much like ourselves.

"Casa de Los Babys" (IMDb listing) is a prototypical Sayles picture: it deals with multiple characters in a situation they know precious little about. There is very little actual plot to "Babys." The picture acts more as a snapshot of a place where powerful and affluent European and American citizens go to take the needy away, encroaching on a nation's heritage, while saving it at the same time. The film isn't overtly political, but more of a Saylesian lyrical piece in which the audience gets to see all sides of the coin without ever getting caught up in judgmental screenwriting. We meet the American and European mothers who stomp around, barely knowing the language, spreading their trepidation and self-worth to whomever will listen. We see the haggard hotel manager (a commanding Rita Moreno), who is tired of the persistent Americans whining about the facilities, yet cannot turn away the precious "yanqui" money. Sayles shows us a teenager who has been impregnated by the town lothario, and now is caught up in the whirlwind of the national baby factory. And we witness the local children, all too old for the adoption process, losing their innocence on the streets, begging for money, with nowhere to sleep at night, and huffing spray paint to make the pain disappear.

When the film starts to lose focus on the ideas presented in the story, Sayles breaks the movie up for a simple montage of the babies in the title; snapping the audience back into the awareness of why this process occurs daily in South America.

At a criminal 96 minutes, "Casa de Los Babys" isn't Sayles' most cohesive film; there is an inevitable feeling of a short stop when the end credits roll, as most of the characters' fates remain unknown. Yet, in being so abrupt and quickly paced, Sayles manages to keep his ideas fairly undemanding and efficient. "Babys" is a film that will connect instantly with any person who has ever tried to conceive a child, but its portrait of the greater scheme of things is something that should be viewed by all.

Filmfodder Grade: A-

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