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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
This is the first Herzog feature I've seen on the big screen and I had read a few reviews on here before going. It's worth noting that I went to the Greenwich Picturehouse cinema in London. The screen, seating, sound and facilities were first class. I'd urge you to see this somewhere with top quality projection and sound.
This is a film about some French caves that contain paintings and markings made up to 32,000 years ago. Herzog documents the difficulties in viewing these astonishing sights and the further problems in filming them. As he seems to be able to do in any situation, Werner finds the most interesting, possibly obsessed and eccentric people to help illustrate the remarkable nature of this cave network.
The film is in 3D. A special 3D camera was made due to the constricted nature of the caves and the early part of the film was shot on a non-professional camera. A few reviews have complained of noise from low light dancing in 3D before their eyes. I saw none of this at all - in fact the 3D was really well handled and didn't detract from the subject matter at all. The undulation in the rocks are part of the paintings - the people that painted them used the contours as the shape of the things they drew. All that said, I don't know how well the 3D will translate to the small screen.
The sound is entrancing. The score is haunting and majestic, much like the French scenery we see and swoop over. A few people have complained of the heartbeat noise that is heard over the "silence" that we're told to experience but I felt it worked well, even on the second occurrence.
There are some odd moments, keeping to Herzog's style, including a crocodile-infested biosphere on the Rhone which Herzog uses to describe the human impact on the environment in the area around the caves. A few of the cave-investigating scientists are odd too, but I imagine the Bavarian director's questions often create an impression of abnormality in the sanest of subjects. Some of the interviews reminded me of The White Diamond or the friends of Tim Treadwell in Grizzly Man.
I'm delighted to have seen a Herzog film on the big screen and felt that this was the equal of "Encounters" or "Grizzly Man". It doesn't have the edgy feel of La Soufriere but that's to its credit. Go see it if you can but make sure it's at the best screen you can.
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