The Chauvet Cave in southern France is a site of extraordinary natural and cultural value, holding fossilised remains of long extinct animals and 32,000-years-old cave paintings, which are the oldest known examples of primitive art. Because of the fragile environment that must be maintained, very few people are allowed to enter. This nature and art documentary by Werner Herzog delivers an astonishingly privileged look at this subterranean time capsule.
Herzog includes background information on how the cave was discovered, interviews people researching the cave and includes details about the logistics of filming in such a restrictive environment, complete with Herzog’s idiosyncratic narration. But the real joy of the film is the footage of the cave art with various experts discussing the importance and meaning of the works. Most spectacularly, Herzog uses 3D cinematography to deliver a truly immersive experience and to capture how the early artists utilised the natural curves of the cave walls to create perspective. Perhaps most mysterious is how the paintings convey movement, using basic techniques that resonate centuries later with cinema audiences.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 390, 2011