After the insanity of ‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans‘, iconoclast director Werner Herzog switches back to documentary mode for his latest film. To prove that he’s never afraid to challenge himself, no matter the material, he’s made it in 3-D. Today’s coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival takes a look at this, plus a lovely little Canadian movie that will probably never play near you – but should.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Throughout his career as both a fiction storyteller and a documentarian, Werner Herzog has been obsessed with the conflict between man and nature. This perhaps reached its zenith with the outstanding ‘Grizzly Man’. In ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’, he explores the Chauvet caves of southern France, in which were discovered the earliest known pictorial images drawn by Paleolithic human hands over 30,000 years ago.
Because the caves were sealed off by a rockslide millennia ago, the drawings were preserved in nearly pristine condition right up through their discovery in 1997. To ensure their protection, the French government limits access to the caves to selected scientists and researchers, but made a special dispensation to allow Herzog to bring in a small film crew. This documentary will quite literally be most people’s only opportunity to see these extraordinary images. Herzog also uses this to ruminate on mankind’s interaction with nature and the development of the artistic impulse. This is truly a fascinating film.
Because the caves are such a confined space, Herzog was not able to bring in bulky professional camera equipment. As a result, the movie was photographed on kind of crummy consumer video gear. For the most part, it’s very drab and low-res. It doesn’t even look like high definition. Ironically, interview footage shot outside the caves looks worst of all. Some of it looks to have been shot with cell phone cameras.
The entire movie is presented in 3-D. From the looks of it, some of the footage was shot with 3-D cameras while other footage was converted after-the-fact. Some of the 3-D effects, especially when the handheld camerawork gets shaky, can be headache-inducing. I found myself closing one eye to see the movie in 2-D on several occasional. However, at its best, Herzog uses the 3-D in very interesting ways to accentuate the natural shapes and textures of the cave walls. All in all, I’d say the 3-D is kind of a mixed bag here. I might even advise that this would be better to watch in standard 2-D.
Movies like ‘Modra’ are why I love film festivals. This is a really charming Canadian production that will probably never get wide distribution in the U.S. or see a Blu-ray release. If I hadn’t been here, if a friend hadn’t recommended it, and if I didn’t just happen to be in the theater where it was playing and have an open gap in my schedule, I very likely never would have seen it. But I’m glad that all of those circumstances lined up in my favor.
‘Modra’ is the story of two teenagers from Toronto who take a trip to visit the small village of the title in Slovakia. Lina (Hallie Switzer, the daughter of director Ingrid Veninger) has just broken up with her boyfriend, who was supposed to accompany her on the trip. Meanwhile, Leco (Alexander Gammal) has been cold-calling girls from his school out of desperation for someone to date over the summer. This leads Lina to make a spur-of-the-moment decision to invite Leco to go with her. The two hardly know each other, yet find themselves traveling halfway across the globe to a town seemingly in the middle of nowhere where they have basically nothing to do except get to know each other.
The movie is humorous, but not overtly a comedy. Writer-director Veninger avoids the expected fish-out-of-water hijinks. The two characters adapt just fine to the local culture. There’s some gentle romance, but no grand passionate love story. These kids like each other, but aren’t madly in love. This is simply a no-frills coming-of-age story about a pair of likeable and well-realized characters sharing an interesting life experience. It doesn’t pretend to be anything more ambitious than that, and doesn’t need to be.
Both of the first-time lead actors deliver very naturalistic and appealing performances. In the Q&A afterwards, Veninger revealed that, in addition to her daughter, most of the Slovakian cast were her blood relations – as were most members of the production crew. The film benefits greatly from its home-grown, labor-of-love origins.