How many filmmakers can you say have threatened to kill their lead actor on set? How many filmmakers have been shot during an interview, yet continued on with it only making the quip, “It is not an important bullet”? How many filmmakers have publicly honored a bet to boil and eat their own shoe, the footage of which is readily available on YouTube?
Werner Herzog is one of those filmmakers.
A tempestuous man, he has racked up so much cult-icon status that it’s hard at times to remember he’s made some of cinema’s finest works. (“Aguirre: The Wrath of God”, “Fitzcarraldo”, etc…) For my money, he’s one of the most fascinating people on the planet. Alternating between off-kilter narratives and fascinating documentaries these days, Herzog delivers on the latter category with his new work, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”.
In “Dreams”, Herzog personally takes a four-man crew into the Chauvet cave. In Chauvet lies the first-ever cave paintings by man — some dating back as far as 32,000 years. Herzog often explores the significance of Chauvet not just as a beautiful place where rare rocks and stalagmites dwell — but where in a very primal, simplistic form, art was essentially born. He gives us an in-depth look at the interior of the cave — something he had to run by the French minister of culture to do.
But what really differentiates “Cave” from being just another nature documentary, aside from the fascinating force behind it, is the fact that Herzog shot it using 3-D cameras. Because of this, we as an audience receive a thoroughly immersive, visually stunning glimpse at Chauvet, a near-universe unto itself. The 3-D allows cave textures and intricacies to pop out, in a way that could never have been displayed in standard two-dimensional projection. Of course, it ensures that the film can at times be a visually foggy affair, (adding the 3-D dimming effect atop the already dark environment of the cave) but that’s a small price to pay for the level of immersion the audience receives.
Herzog is unquestionably front-and-center here, as he seems to love doing in his documentaries. Not that this is a bad thing in any-way, quite the contrary actually. He’s a well-informed if informal guide through the mysteries and wonders that Chauvet has to offer.
Whether one enjoys “Cave” is entirely dependent on either their penchant for nature documentaries, Werner Herzog, or simply letting go and being given a glimpse of a place that otherwise, they’d never lay eyes on in their life. Clearly, I don’t mind any of those things, and so for 95 minutes I was totally swept away. B