slightly carla: day ten

after a slight delay here we are with the last pair of films that carla assigned me. we begin with werner herzog's documentary, cave of forgotten dreams (2010).

in late 1994 jean-marie chauvet led an expedition to explore a complex of caves in southern france and stumbled upon one of the most significant cultural finds in the history of human expression. throughout the caves there are hundreds of paintings, most of them twice as old as the oldest previously known, including representations of animals not found in any other ice age art and abstract techniques unlike anything else from the era. werner herzog and his crew were allowed unprecedented access to the cave system and over the course of six shooting days of four hours apiece created a document that could prove to be invaluable. access to the cave is strictly limited because of the adverse affects of human contact. touching the walls could eventually prove disastrous and even too much breathing can damage the delicate environment so this film is most likely the only way most of humanity can experience what are some of the oldest artistic expressions on earth. herzog's film was originally produced in 3D and i was lucky enough to see it in the theater in that format. it was the first legitimate use of the technology that i had seen and there were segments that were simply staggering. there is a section in which you move, virtually, through the cave as represented by a galaxy of laser-plotted dots of light. in two dimensions, it's brilliant. in three, it's breathtaking. the contours and leaping shadows that lend movement to these primitive drawings are best viewed that way. even just on my television, though, it was worth viewing yet again. it is full of wonderful moments. herzog and his team make an effort to document the utter silence of the cave and in that moment he almost takes us to another planet entirely, which is what the earth would have seemed like 32,000 years ago. his inimitable interviewing technique is also on full display, comparing the mapping of the cave to creating the manhattan phone directory and musing upon the four million entries - "do they dream? do they cry at night? what are their hopes?" i am so glad it was herzog that the french minister of culture permitted to film these caves. his sensibilities seem perfectly suited to investigate and communicate the oddly human need to make art and to put us in the best position to understand a discovery that is potentially so overwhelming. see it in 3D if at all possible, but see it either way.

and, finally, we close the show with josh and benny safdie's daddy longlegs (2009).

the safdie brothers' second feature is the jittery tale of lenny, a divorced father of two young sons living in new york. it chronicles the two weeks (or so) of visitation that he has with them and is equal parts heartwarming and nerve wracking - heartwarming in that lenny obviously wants nothing more than to make his kids happy for this two weeks, nerve wracking in that he is little more than an overgrown kid himself and commits a series of the most reckless parenting acts you can imagine, including sending an eight- and six-year old to the grocery store in new york city by themselves with $55 in their pocket. the guy is absolutely infuriating and how he talked a woman into having not one but two children with him is almost inconceivable to me. don't get me wrong. this is not a condemnation of the film. it is one of the more promising american indies i have seen in a while. the safdies are obviously heavily indebted to john cassavetes and, as influences go, you couldn't aim much higher in my book. i was worried at first when i saw this on the list that after all the great films i saw this week we were going to end on a down note with some bit of disappointing mumblecore but it is steadfastly not of that ilk. as opposed to post-graduate gothamite musings on why dating (or, as they so noncommittally like to call it now, "hanging out") is soooooo hard, the safdie brothers actually turn the tables and use a developmentally arrested manchild as a sort of trojan horse to sneak much more complicated adult themes into the proceedings, particularly the weight of their father's irresponsibility that these boys have to carry. at times - hell, maybe more often than not - they are the closest thing to a mature adult in the room. they certainly aren't as subject to their own selfish whims as often and they are both under ten. it is through them that we eventually see how painful and confusing it gets when lenny's twitchy charm wears off. the execution put me off a couple of times, but that may be because this comes so closely on the heels of the killing of a chinese bookie (1976). there was a moment or two where it seemed like they were kind of running the cassavetes playbook a little too by the numbers. when his camera went out of focus it was because he was struggling to keep up with what he was shooting and with his own brain. when theirs does it it almost feels like they said "hey, let's do that cassavetes-camera-out-of-focus thing here". these are minor quibbles, though. like i said, better to shoot for something so wild and uncontrollable than the navel gazing and fastidiously quirky art direction that passes for heart among american indies these days. i really look forward to what they do once they more fully integrate their influences instead of occasionally just aping them. they have the potential to do some really exciting and honest work.

and with that we are at the end. i will check in tomorrow to review the week (and then some) that was. thanks, carla. i hope you enjoyed it as much as i did.

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