Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thoughts on "Le Premier Cri"

Oerall, Le Premier Cri was a hauntingly beautiful film. It followed women from around the world as they gave birth. The film was part-documentary, part-fiction. The women and their birth were all real, but they did not actually all give birth during a solar eclipse, as the film shows. The cinematography was beautiful and seamless--no hand-held home video feel anywhere. It was a documentary in the style of March of the Penguins or Babies or Microcosmos, in which the characters themselves tell the bulk of the story. There was no meta-narration, no talking heads, no interviews with any of the women. Just beautifully filmed scenes of the women living and laboring and birthing, with French voiceovers of each woman telling her own story. (The film has English subtitles for non-Francophones).

I loved the parallel editing in Le Premier Cri. For example, in the beginning of the movie, we see a Mexican woman swimming with dophins and floating in an azure ocean, an Amazonian woman bathing and swimming in a jungle river, and a French Canadian woman swimming in a lake. Then we see the three of them being painted. One has the baby in utero painted onto her belly; another has her entire face and body painted to beautify her for her baby's arrival, and another models nude for a group of artists.

The film follows women all over the world:

Majtonré, a Kayapo Indian in the Brazilian Amazon, is expecting her third baby. She gives birth in her hut at night, holding onto a horizontal wooden bar. Suspended in a half-squat, half-sit, she cries quietly in pain as the baby emerges. Her body is adorned with intricate patterns and stripes of paint.

Gaby & Pilar in Cancun and Puerto Vallerta, Mexico, plan ocean/dolphin births. Gaby lives near the water's edge. When labor begins, she floats in her large swimming pool. She plans to move to a nearby secluded beach for the actual birth, but the baby arrives too quickly. Soon after the birth, she is carried in a makeshift stretcher to that beach, where she coos over her new baby.

Pilar has her first baby in a dolphinarium. Two trained dolphins swim alongside her as she pushes her baby out.

Vanessa, a Quebecoise sharing a house in Maine with her partner and 8 others, have an unassisted birth for their first baby. Although their birth is without a midwife, it certainly isn't private. The commune members crowd around, watching her labor and birth.
Sandy, a dancer in Paris, France, is expecting her first baby. She continues to practice and perform into her eighth month. She attends childbirth classes, where they are taught how to push. Most women around the world, the teacher explains, don't need to be told how to push. They are usually kneeling or standing or squatting. But since most women in France have epidurals, they need to be taught how to push--and they way they are taught is artificial. Sandy wonders why she needs to be taught how to have a baby.
Mané, Touareg woman expecting her first baby in the Kogo Desert of Niger. After a long, hard labor, her breech baby is stillborn.
Kokoya, a Masai woman, the fifth of ten wives and awaiting her seventh baby. She gives birth in a desert hut in Tanzania. It is expected that she be stoic and express no pain.
Sunita, who lives near the Ganges River in India. She moved from the countryside to the city in hopes of a better life, but she is still poor. Pregnant with her fourth (and she hopes last) baby, she sells dried cow dung and her husband drives a bicycle rickshaw. She is disappointed when her fourth baby is born and it is a girl. Having a girl means needing more money for her dowry.
Elisabeth, a Dolgan nomad in extreme northern Siberia, is helicoptered into a hospital for the birth. She is totally alone. Her husband has remained home to tend their reindeer (who pull their small caravan like sled dogs). It is -50 Celsius. The attending physician thinks the baby is too big to be born vaginally, so she orders a cesarean.
Yukiko was herself born at Dr. Yoshimura's clinic. She had her first baby there and is waiting the arrival of her second. Dr. Yoshimura believes that modern living has harmed the birth process. Part of his clinic is a recreated 18th century Japanese house where his pregnant patients live and work. A firm believer in the natural process of birth and women's inherent ability to give birth, Dr. Yoshimura says that giving birth is like the sunrise--you can neither slow it down nor hurry it along. Yukiko gives birth to her baby girl on her hands and knees, in a dim room, with her husband and daughter at her side.
The last "character", so to speak, isn't one woman but multitudes--some of the 45,000 women in 2006 (now close to 66,000) who gave birth at the world's largest maternity hospital, Tu Du Hospital, in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. 17,000 of those 45,000 births were spontaneous vaginal births, with the other 28,000 babies born through forceps, vacuum extraction, or cesarean. This hospital is literally a baby factory, with almost 200 babies born per day. Women line the halls, lay side by side on beds filling room after room, give birth one after another in parallel delivery tables. Babies are whisked away by busy maternity staff, lined up in a central hub one after another in pink or blue blankets awaiting their processing. I have never seen anything like this hospital, not even close.
Zari was very disturbed by the scenes in which newborn babies were removed from their mothers. Of all the hospital births, only Sandy, the Frenchwoman, is allowed to hold her baby after it is born. Zari kept asking what would happen if my baby were taken away, or if someone had taken Dio away. I thought the stillbirth would be the hardest part to watch--the footage was mercifully brief--but I found these hospital scenes far more unsettling--both the separation of mothers and babies and also the lack of humanity and human touch in the Vietnamese and Siberian hospitals.

This is truly a must-see film. Buy it from amazon.fr, borrow a friend's copy, interlibrary loan it, request it for your birthday present...whatever it takes!


  1. This sounds amazing. Thank you so much for doing a review. I looked at the website last night, but couldn't piece together much based on the photos and what few words of French seemed similar to English. :) I'll definitely see if I can get my hands on this!

  2. I can't wait to see this movie. My dad sent a German copy to me here in NZ, but it got lost in the mail. *@*)!&@*!^&@%!^$!$@! I hope to get another copy there in January and then have a double feature when I get Babies on DVD, because it was never shown in this part of NZ either.

  3. Hi, I am Brazilian, and I sow the movie. Its's really beautiful! I've recomended this in my blog, too!

  4. sounds amazing. I do want to see it asap.

    I am also wondering - Have you seen Babies yet? I was sad there was no birth footage in that film.

    I remember my first daughter when she was very young being very, very disturbed by a baby story on TLC where the baby was being put up for adoption - The birth mother was very firm in her decision but still shed tears (obviously so) I was unprepared for it to disturb my daughter so much and her not really understanding adoption, it took weeks of discussion on why that lady "couldn't have her baby back"

  5. Yes, I saw Babies in Paris this summer. It just came out on DVD, so I'd like to watch it again soon. Le Premier Cri is kind of the prequel to Babies, although Babies is much more lighthearted overall. I mean, what else do you do with cute, precocious babies?

  6. Rixa, I'm interested if, as you watched the movie, you found yourself thinking, "This could have been done differently," or, "The mother would have benefited so greatly from that."

    I don't know if this is a good thing or not, but I find myself, when hearing of or reading about or seeing a birth, way too many times, it's just too painful, because the mother or her care providers do something that creates a less-than-ideal result.

  7. Haven't seen the film--but honestly--a stillbirth is less disturbing than less-than-ideal hospital conditions?

  8. I didn't say that stillbirths in general are less disturbing than really inhumane treatment of women and babies--but in this film, the latter definitely unsettled me more than the former, which I had not expected.

  9. Babies is available at most Redbox locations. Super easy and a very good watch!!

  10. I watched this with my husband in the weeks before our first child was born. It was very powerful and a fantastic way to get us talking about birth and even revealed a few assumptions we didn't know each other had (we are from different cultures). I can't recommend this movie enough! I've watched it 2or 3 times now and could happily watch again.

    Just an FYI (not that I recommend it) but in case any readers are in Asia where film piracy is common (and it's impossible to get *real* versions), I was able to buy this in Laos from my local Thai/Chinese DVD shop. Ask around!

  11. Thanks so much, Rixa, for posting about this. oooh how i long to see it. Going to trying and work that out around here. Also, late in saying this-but congrats on your preg. of #3! So excited for you! lots of good round-bellie wishes to you. xo

  12. i'm assuming there are english subtitles? thanks!

  13. Yes, the copy I bought in France has English subtitles.

  14. The hospital in Vietnam-surely the women do not deliver their babies sharing a bed in a room filled with so many people?? Although from the pic I assume they all labor lying on their backs sharing a bed with another stranger. That hospital and the pic on here that I saw just DISTURBING

  15. Yes, the women share rooms for all parts of labor & delivery. In the film, you see several women lined up in one room, their legs up in stirrups, their babies being delivered in a kind of assembly-line process. The pictures I provided aren't where they actually push their babies out, but there is no privacy in any part of the process.

    I didn't see any family members present in any of the scenes with this hospital. With around 200 births/day, it's so busy and crowded that the only people in L&D are staff.

  16. I did as you suggested and ordered a copy through Amazon in France (luckily my internet asked if I wanted the site translated into English, as I am not a francophone!). My DVD arrived yesterday (it took only a week from France to Australia - how good was that!), and I was able to watch it last night on my blu-ray player as its region free. A truly amazing film - and I agree, the hospital scenes were far more distressing than the still birth. Thank you for reviewing it - I would never have known about it otherwise.

  17. rixa, can you share and upload somewhere the English subtitles? i've already watched it with my wife. it's GREAT and really must be seen

  18. I'm not sure how one would go about sharing the entire film's worth of subtitles...but the French DVD has them in English.

  19. i was presented with this movie at my birthday. and now i'm sharing it here http://rutracker.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3636863 (free registration and downloading).its German edition. but i still havent got english subtitles :) therefore i didnt translate the movie into russian or ukrainian. but now i hope to translate it using a few different language subtitles in Google translator

    buy, enjoy and share ) the movie is great


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