"The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams"
(Directed by Werner Herzog, 2011)
Given unprecedented access to the Chauvet Cave, a vast archeological repository located in the south of France, legendary director Werner Herzog and a minimal crew of four crawl through tunnels and balance on delicate metal catwalks, filming the extraordinary and breathtaking cave paintings found within. Herzog designed a lightweight, portable 3D camera, small enough to be brought into the cavern, so that he could capture the ways in which the ancient artists of Chauvet used the natural contours of the cave walls to enhance their artwork. Although often rough technically, it is the most meaningful use of 3D cinematography I have ever seen, placing viewers inside the space of the cave in a way that seems magical and unreal.
The Chauvet cave paintings were made over 30,000 years ago, depicting predatory animals such as bears and lions, as well as bison, rhinos, mammoths and perhaps most striking of all, a wall of beautifully rendered horses. The spiritual and artistic presence of these paintings is almost overwhelming, embued with primal, primordial history and an astonishing technical and aesthetic command: these pictures are both evocative and beautiful. Herzog approaches them reverently, and delights in their mystery, often shooting them in half-shadow or using moving, flickering light to suggest the rude torches used by their creators as well as the complete, total darkness that shrouded these powerful pictures for untold millennia. Throughout the film he intones in a soft European murmur, musing about the nature of human consciousness and the relationship of this ancient artwork to our own modern sensibilities: how much of the aesthetic and world view of this primitive culture do we carry about with us today? Some viewers may find the intellectualism and pretensions hard to take (as well as the often intrusive but oddly affecting score...) yet it is hard to deny the power of the subject.
You or I will never be able to go inside these caves -- they are closely guarded by the French government -- but in Herzog's film we can become immersed in them. Leaving the theater, walking in sunshine or under electric lights, you may marvel at the wonders that thirty thousand years of human life have brought - the works of stone and steel, plastic and glass, the layer upon layer of habitation and roads, the planes in the sky and the optical magic that brings art to life in films such as this. And, like Herzog and his crew, you may find yourself swept up by the connections we still have to the stunning pictures that lay hidden inside a dark cave for far more time than civilization itself... it is truly miraculous.
A highly recommended, deeply moving film - for the full effect see it in the theaters, if you can. (DJ Joe Sixpack, Slipcue film reviews)