Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Even better than the real thing: 3D at the Berlin Film Festival 2011

On a freezing night in February, I was convinced of the actual wonder of 3D cinema after an eye-burning screening marathon of three new titles. Starting with Les Contes de la Nuit, this latest fantasy from French filmmaker and master animator Michel Ocelot teams his instantly recognisable silhouettes in the style of Lotte Reiniger with up-to-the-minute 3D technology, and the effect is dazzling.  His extraordinary Serengheti-coloured worlds are truly magical - although I had to admit that, at this fresh-eyed point of the night, I wasn’t quite convinced the 3D really added much more than to a couple of scenes.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

But then it was time for Werner Herzog and his Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary/meditation on the drawings inside the Chauvet caves of southern France. To make the film, Herzog got exclusive access but, as he outlines at the start, they weren’t going to get much time inside these highly guarded caverns. Unable to bring in a large crew or number of cameras, they fashioned a smaller hand-held 3D camera and went in first with the scientists and then on their own.

If you are wondering how someone could make the inside of a cave not only watchable but truly gripping, then you need to see this film. Who else but Herzog could bring together the motley collection of curious but wholly dedicated scientists and explorers that include a perfumer, a circus performer and a man who fashions spears which he insists on demonstrating. We’re reminded of Grizzly Man here; Herzog listens to and records each contribution with respect and patience, with his instantly recognisable accented voiceover adding wry comment to proceedings. But it’s inside the caves that the wonder of these ancient creations is revealed, through the most up-to-date technology. The 3D camera follows the drawings around the curves of the walls on which they were painted, slowly giving the viewer time to absorb not only their detail, but also to get a sense of their sheer historicity. Discovered in 1994, and believed to be over 30,000 years old, these drawings, some of eight-legged creatures – early attempts to convey movement – provoke Herzog’s contemplation of the art of film itself as well as bigger existential questions. Opening at IFI March 25th. To book, click here.


How to follow that? Bringing the 3D night to a splendid close was Germany’s favourite filmmaking son, Wim Wenders, who was on hand to present his new film, Pina, about the artistic director and legendary choreographer of Wuppertal Dance Theatre. Wenders, resplendent in mauve checks, talked briefly about his film and of how much they all missed its subject, Pina Bausch, who died in 2009. He had long promised her to make a film about the company, but he had told her that the technology was not yet available. For how could you convey the movement and artistry of this world-renowed dance theatre group? Then he saw U2’s 3D film in 2007 and informed her that the technology had arrived.

Wim Wenders with Pina Bausch

Following her unexpected death, he thought of abandoning the project but was persuaded by the members of the company to continue. What emerges, instead, is a tribute from each performer to Pina herself, through dance, performance and words. Wenders uses 3D technology to convey the sheer depth and range of their movements and as a viewer, you could hardly be more involved in the spectacle. Forget swans, black or white, other dance films such as Altman’s The Company, or dare I say, Flatley’s leaps which failed to get through the limitations of a 2D frame. This is breathtaking and memorable filmmaking. Wenders brings the dancers out into the open, onto busy traffic islands where the Wuppertal famous ‘Schwebebahn’ train hurtles along overhead and his camera moves around and about them, intercutting with their other verbalised tributes to their much-missed mentor and inspiration. Pina opens at the IFI in early summer. Whet your appetite and watch an early trailer here.

Alicia McGivern
Head of Education

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