This film tells the story of a people who lived more than 32,000 years ago. It demonstrates that a powerful story can be told through art. The images they painted in Chauvet Cave are art and history and science all at once as they record the likenesses of the animal world around them.
The writer and director was Werner Herzog, an award-winning filmmaker. He was honored and appreciated by the likes Francois Truffaut and Roger Egbert. Truffaut called Herzog “the most important film director alive” while Ebert said that Herzog had never made a film that was uninteresting. “Even his failures are spectacular” (Wikipedia), Ebert said.
More than just a narrative documentary, the film is about history and science and culture; it is about the archaeology of a Paleolithic people. It is unlike most other documentaries of its kind because Herzog dove deeply into spirituality of the cave and its art.
- Originality : This a 3D film. I did not have the appropriate equipment to watch in 3D but I can imagine how spectacular it would be.
- Creativity : Rather than filling the film with words, Herzog lets us see the paintings in relatively long passages filled only with music and the sound of a heart beating.
- Technical expertise : Herzog demonstrates his expertise throughout the film. He was allowed to have only four crew members and was given only a limited amount of time in the cave.
- Style : The focus of the film was on the cave and the paintings but it was undergirded by comments from the scientists and information about the region in which the cave is located.
- Emotion evoked : I sensed amazement and awe being drawn from me as I watched. The idea of the age of the paintings was almost more than I could comprehend. The sense of the people making this art connects me, as an artist today, with them.
- Call to action : While there is no overt call the action, the subtext of the film is protection. It ends with information about a tropical biosphere that was built not far from the cave and worry about the safety of the cave.
- Other : One of the filmmaking techniques that I appreciated was the use of voiceovers to translate the languages spoken by the scientists rather than subtitles.
All of the aspects of the film support the premise that a great story can be told through art. The story told here recounts the animals of the Paleolithic period in the region and the ways in which they lived. There are lions rubbing against each other in play and strange bison-like creatures fighting for dominance. There are human handprints artfully printed on the walls but there is only one partial representation of a human female figure. We can see that the walls are not smooth and the artists used the imperfections to accentuate the bodies of the animals.
According to the scientists, no people lived in the cave; it was used for their art and probably their spiritual ceremonies. Even the scientists and the filmmakers said that after being in the cave for a length of time, they felt the need to exit. They had a sense that the Paleolithic painters were watching them. This sense of being observed by ancient people comes through in the film.
I recommend this film to anyone who has a sense of history, a sense that the ancients lived lives not unlike our own, a sense that art is both universal and eternal.