Herzog, the mad genius narrative filmmaker/documentarian, sets his sights on a miraculous little part of the world. Southern France is famous for its paleolithic cave art, dating back 10s of thousands of years and visited by many. In the mid 90s, a unique cave was found, one that was basically sealed by a rock slide and only uncovered by a diligent group that search for such hidden treasures (“speleologists” who use their cheeks to literally feel for disturbances in the air emanating from cliffsides). Following these drafts, these intrepid explorers uncovered the Chauvet caves, which have sat undisturbed for over 12,000 years.
Inside the caves that they found an even more astonishing fact -the artwork within dates to around 30,000 years ago. With pictures of bison and other game, as well as hand prints, these are literally windows to our distant ancestors, and a wonder to behold.
Because of the fragility of the cave, visitors are severely restricted. Thus, Herzog’s work is even more of a stunner, as he and his small crew were able to capture the inside of the cave in ways that the vast majority of us will never be able. He boldy chose to capture the caves in 3D, and this effect works absolutely splendidly in the doc. The paintings themselves follow the contours of the walls, and the 3D effect gives a true sense of the dynamism of the artwork. When some of the scientists working to uncover the secrets of the cave hold up 2 dimmensional photos, the artwork loses some of its charm, its flatness betraying the great subtlety in which many of the beasts on the wall were crafted. The 3D presentation, coupled with the low-level lights that mimic the flashing, unsteady light that would have illuminated the cave as the artists worked by torchlight, creates a startling image on screen.
Again, being Herzog, we’re treated to a number of tangents and weirdnesses. A man who crafts ancient weapons is one particular diversion, and an apocalyptic epilogue brings forth once again reptilian participants to one of the director’s pieces. This dalliances remain charming, and do nothing to distract from those stunning, sublime moments where the camera lingers, to a beautiful score, on the remarkable images contained within.
If the goal of a documentary is to take us places and show us things we can not experience ourselves, then for that reason CAVE would be a resounding success. Coupled with the cheeky techniques of Herzog, this is a film that’s truly unforgettable, one that absolutely demands to be seen on a large screen with adequate projection and competent 3D presentation.