From Belle Epoque Parsian adventures to a Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Over the long holiday weekend I managed to catch up on three different films in three different Edinburgh cinemas, starting with Luc Besson’s French-language movie adaptation of the great French comics artist Jacques Tardi’s wonderful Adele Blanc-Sec graphic albums, sitting in the Art Deco delights of the lovely Cameo, sipping beer (as the auditorium is licensed and you can take in your drink from the bar, very civilised). It is a fab adaptation of Tardi’s work, taking the plot of two of his graphic novels (a magically revived pterodactyl from le Jardin de Plantes) and Adele’s quest to find and bring back a mummy who was supposed to be an especially gifted doctor to help her critically injured sister) and very effectively interweaving them into a hugely enjoyable adventure romp split between Egyptian tombs and the beauties of Belle Epoque Paris. I loved the comics (now being translated into English by Fantagraphics), they give a cracking adventure yarn much like Herge’s immortal Tintin, except aimed at an adult audience. Highly recommended and hopefully there will be another – certainly they seemed to set it up so there might be another and there are plenty of the comics to borrow plots from. Oh and I did like the ancient Egyptian’s joke about pyramids and the Louvre.

On the holiday Monday I went to catch Ken Branagh’s big screen adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Thor – as one of my comics chums remarked Thor is a character who could so easily end up being ridiculous cheese if not handled correctly. And a number of folks wondered at a director best known for highly regarded Shakespearean works helming a major summer action/comics hero movie. But in truth Brannagh handles it perfectly – he understands myth and how important that is (remember Thor isn’t just a superhero in a cape, he is a god) and also borrows from Joseph Campbell’s idea of the journey of the hero. Add in some romance, some good character development, some enjoyable action and some humour, not to mention some spectacular visuals (not least Asgard and the rainbow bridge). A smart, well made comics flick for grown ups and a good start to a summer season of cinema that is heavy with comics related releases.

The stand out for me, however, was a visit to my beloved Filmhouse, long my second home in Edinburgh, for the budget matinee afteroon. I went to see the latest film from acclaimed (and often decliamed, I suppose!) director Werner Herzog, a documentary on the Chuavet Cave in southern France, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The cave was only found in 1994, sealed for millennia after landslides covered up the original, large entrance used in paleolithic times. Within the explorers found a beautiful cave of exquisite stalactites and stalagmites, mineral deposits that had taken thousands of years to form… And the earliest human artworks… Beautiful art painted deep inside the cave system, some 32, 000 years old. When prehistoric humans first started painting here the great ice sheets covered most of Europe beyond; there was no English channel and you could walk from Paris to London (if they existed) with dry feet; now extinct animals roamed the land like wooly mammoths, wooly rhinos and cave bears and there were two distinct species of humans in Europe. Only one of which made intricate artwork – not the neanderthals, but the homo sapiens. Our direct ancestors.

Some of the artwork is breathtakingly beautiful – and so well executed and so well preserved there were suspicions it may be an incredibly elborate hoax, but carbon dating plus the mineral build up over some artworks has proven their authenticity (although some still argue over precise dates). The ancient artists were astonishing – not only working in a dark cave with only firelight to see by, but cleverly using the cave itself, using the curves and protrusions of the walls and outcrops, suiting their animal depictions to the contours to give the maximum effect of animals