The Chauvet Pont d’Arc cave in southern France contains what are currently believed to be the oldest cave paintings and drawings in the world. The cave, which is situated in the Ardèche valley, was not discovered until 1994. Numbering over 400 murals, these paintings are believed to be over 30,000 years old. The cave is not open to members of the public because their breath would change the humidity in the cave and be extremely detrimental to the depictions of animals and symbols on the walls. Even scientists are only allowed to enter the Chauvet cave at certain strictly regimented times. The cave consists of several corridors and caverns. The paintings on the walls are not all flat, rather, the painters would incorporate the walls’ bulges into their work, creating reliefs to which colour was added.
There had long been a plan to give a single filmmaker access to the cave and, for the symbolic fee of one Euro, to allow them to capture the paintings on film for the benefit of the general public. Werner Herzog was the man that was chosen for the job and he does not disappoint: using only a minimum of light and a custom-built hand-held camera he succeeds not only in filming but in bringing the images to life. His choice of 3D format also literally conveys the cave’s spatial dimensions. Moreover, the director makes use of the contours of these ‘moving’ rock paintings as the starting point for a philosophical meditation on the origins of the art of film as well as questions of human existence to which this encounter has inspired him.