The Chauvet cave, discovered in 1994 in the Ardeche gorge, Southern France, is one of the most extraordinary archaeological sites in the world.
Dating back about 35,000 years, its walls are covered with beautiful paintings of animals – horses, lions, panthers, rhinos, hyenas among them – which would be astonishing in themselves; what's more remarkable is that the collapse of a rock face thousands of years ago preserved this cavern art in near-perfect condition: the animals look like they might have been painted yesterday. Many film-makers have tried to gain access to the cave and all have been denied, bar one. Who else but that chronicler of outlandish human endeavour, Werner Herzog? With limited time, a skeleton crew and an improvised lighting system – the technical restrictions imposed on account of atmospheric fragility are severe – Herzog superbly conveys (in 3D) the mystery and the majesty of these paintings, no primitive daubs, incidentally, but meticulous and artful in a way that conjures some Paleolithic Picasso to mind. The spectacle is, in a very real sense, awesome. Of course, this being a Herzog documentary, narrated by the man himself in that otherwordly Teutonic voice, it has much to say on the nature of creation and the eternal struggle of mankind to understand. In the end he lets the camera tell the story in a long montage of these strange paintings, needlessly capped by a postscript in which he speculates – incomprehensibly – upon the perceptive capability of albino alligators at a tropical site 20 miles away. But not even albino alligators can hold a candle to those paintings.Reuse content