I’ve just finished watching this Werner Herzog documentary (for another masterpiece watch Grizzly Man)
Set against a majestic French montane backdrop, the film follows continuing exploration of Chauvet cave, an mesmerisingly beautiful cave in itself but which also contains the earliest known cave paintings some 33000 years old predating the second oldest by about 15000 years.
If you go out birding looking to get in touch with nature and seek personal spiritual enlightenment rather than simply accumulating a list this film really is a must see. Also I can now say I have actually watched a 3D movie! A comparison with Picasso seems appropriate in that these etchings are surely one of the greatest works of art ever produced. Sinewy shapes of Bison, Horse and Lion adorn the walls, masterfully in unison with the contours of the walls themselves. Herzog subtly interweaves his own probing commentary with the main players involved in the discovery of the cave. As you glimpse the shapes through the flickering torches of the archeologists on one level it seems clear that these paintings are indicative of a deep spiritual connection with the animals but on another they are so shrouded in the mystery of time that their secrets should be celebrated.
Herzog throws up so many questions about what is is to be human and whether this marked the advent of one of the very first creative movements that it is impossible not to think of ‘the cave’ also on metaphorical terms. Whether this is in a Platonic sense or a comment on our own personal darkness (and light) viewing from this angle adds further depth to the drama.
The final scene involves classic Herzogian ambiguity but we are left with a choice regarding identification – which primeval beast do we most see ourselves as, or are willing to transcend ourselves into?