Saturday, 18 June 2011



I'm not sure if it was Festival fatigue or simply being miffed at having missed out on a media ticket for Sundance favourite Martha Marcy May Marlene (grrrr), but the expected entrancing effects of Werner Herzog's 3D documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, failed to take hold at the screening this morning. To be honest, it annoyed me as much as it informed.

Whilst an adamant opponent of the growing trend towards 3D films - it enhances box office not the viewing experience, people! - I had read repeatedly that Herzog's use of the technology was one of the best applications yet.

It probably seemed like the ideal medium in which to capture the rock art of the Chauvet-Pont-d'arc cave in France. Only discovered in the 1990s, and believed to be some 30,000 years old, the drawings can only be viewed by a select few from the scientific community and, for this one time, Herzog and a small film crew.

Drawn by Paleolithic man, the cave walls are adorned with images of horses, rhinocerous, bison, lions and bears (oh, my!), but only one image of a human: a half female-half bison figure. There are, however, hand prints which act as signatures of the various rock artists; one, with a uniquely-shaped pinky finger, has his work traced throughout the cave.

There's no denying the importance of the discovery and the beauty of this cave, but Cave of Forgotten Dreams is essentially a History Channel doco (they financed the film) enhanced for the big screen by use of 3D. That American funding may also explain why Herzog's narration is spoken in English, as are all those interviewed (or they are interpreted in voice-over).

Call it English language cultural cringe but I minded that the film wasn't subtitled. The German Herzog's English (he sounds a lot like Christoph Waltz, and yes, I know he's Austrian!), while fluent, is also precise, as though he is speaking to a classroom of 6-year-olds or fellow English-as-a-second-language peers. Yes, it annoyed me.

And the film's postscript, concerning a biosphere close to the cave (which uses steam pumped from a nearby nuclear power plant) and its albino crocodile inhabitants, made no sense to me at all, unless to perhaps disprove the belief (one apparently confirmed in a recent international survey) that the Germans have no sense of humour. Crocodiles looking into the abyss? Whatever, Werner.

OK, even I think this review makes me sound like a Grade-A grouch. So with no Martha Marcy May Marlene screening (grrrr), or any others on Day 11 of the Sydney Film Festival, I think I'll try for an early night and tackle the 12th and final day refreshed.

PS Please let there be a ticket for me to Win Win tomorrow, or it ain't going to end pretty!

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