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In 1994, a group of scientists discovered a cave in Southern France perfectly preserved for over 20,000 years and containing the earliest known human paintings. Knowing the cultural significance that the Chauvet Cave holds, the French government immediately cut-off all access to it, save a few archaeologists and paleontologists. But documentary filmmaker, Werner Herzog, has been given limited access, and now we get to go inside examining beautiful artwork created by our ancient ancestors around 32,000 years ago. He asks questions to various historians and scientists about what these humans would have been like and trying to build a bridge from the past to the present. Written by
In a forbidden recess of the cave, there's a footprint of an eight-year-old boy next to the footprint of a wolf. Did a hungry wolf stalk the boy? Or did they walk together as friends? Or were their tracks made thousands of years apart? We'll never know.
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As much as I love Herzog's feature films, it's in his documentaries that I feel he really excels and this one is no exception. Regardless of being faced with extremely restricted access to the Chauvet caves, the subject matter and Herzog's unique angle on story telling make this one of the most compelling documentaries I've ever seen. His documentaries always have a way of moving me, be it in the passion and determination in the people he studies like Dr Graham Dorrington and Timothy Treadwell or in the sense of awe inspired by the environments he focuses on like in Encounters at The End of The World and this one was no different, right from the start I was overcome with the beauty of the caves and the drawings on the walls.
The context and hypotheses given by the interviewees only helps to deepen the sense of wonder as each section of the cave is discussed in turn by everyone from the chief scientist to art historians, to a master perfumer, and in typical Herzog fashion, many of them are quite eccentric and add some humorous touches along the way. Throughout the film, these specialists, along with Herzog's narration really set your mind racing and I went to bed last night still thinking about the cave's mysteries.
The sign of a good film is never wanting it to end and during his last visit to the cave, the film fades to black a number of times, each time left me praying that we were going to be allowed to see just a bit more. Films like this help to open your eyes and remind you that outside the boring drudgery of our 9-5 existence, there is a whole world of beauty and mystery for us to explore and by leaving us with the allegorical example of crocodiles living in a nearby artificial tropical habitat, Herzog leaves you asking questions about the way we lead our modern life that will last long after you've left the cinema.
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