Once in a while, directors with true vision are able to take subjects that would confound an ordinary film-maker and create visceral, transcendent works of art. All films are not necessarily 'works of art', film is primarily a medium of entertainment, but there are individuals who have been able to achieve both aims: creating exceptional ground-breaking, captivating cinema that can also be called art.
Werner Herzog, the eccentric, poetic, German film-maker who insists on narrating all his documentaries in his own distinctly accented English has always gone out of his way to choose the most difficult and outlandish subjects. He has worked with a man obsessed with grizzly bears, a rocket scientist who hovers over the rain-forest in a hot air balloon, and writers and adventurers who live and work in Antarctica.
Now, with Cave of Forgotten Dreams, he chooses to document the millennia-old paintings found in the Chauvet Cave in the Ardeche region of France. The only problem was that the skeleton film crew were only allowed access for a few hours each day over the course of a week. Every documentary maker knows the absurd proportion of footage shot to the actual footage that ends up in the 90 odd minutes that is a feature length documentary. To be allowed to film only a few hours can be catastrophic to the viability of a film. Additionally, the cave being a fragile and compact environment meant that the crew often could not duck out of the shots and were forced to use only the most rudimentary equipment in a dark and hard to manoeuvre environment.
Despite these challenges Herzog, as usual, has made an amazing film. The cave paintings of Chauvet are dramatic in themselves, but Herzog has somehow turned his disadvantage into advantages with his narration, which is full of philosophical wonder at the epic gap in our knowledge between us and the Cro-magnons who painted these powerful renderings of lions, bulls, pre-historic wooly rhinos in the haunting, dark interior of the cave. Herzog uses the camera to drift and wander around the cave for long minutes allowing us to wonder and marvel at the paintings which are underscored by orchestral music that is both melodic and evocative. Finally, the other exceptional, aspect of this film is that Herzog chose to film it in 3-D.
Another film-maker might not have had the patience or the experience to succeed with this kind of technology in such an environment, but Herzog and his team are able to create a breathtaking film that allows the viewers to feel like they are in this most mysterious of caves themselves.