Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog's transporting 3D documentary inside the Chauvet Cave

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

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Directed by Werner Herzog. With Herzog, Dominique Baffier, Jean Clottes, Jean-Michel Geneste, Carole Fritz, Gilles Tosello, Michel Philippe, Julien Monney, Nicholas Conard, Wulf Hein, Maria Malina, Maurice Maurin. Written by Herzog, from the article “First Impressions” by Judith Thurman.

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams is the Chauvet Cave in Southern France, where explorers Eliette Brunel-Deschamps, Christian Hillaire, and Jean-Marie Chauvet discovered, in 1994, not only an extensive array of the oldest cave paintings in human history, but also footprints, fossilized bones, and other evidence of its era, all almost perfectly preserved; the importance of this discovery “was immediately recognized, and access was shut off categorically.”

In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the latest documentary from Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Encounters at the End of the World), the director has been given unprecedented access to the Chauvet Cave, taking a limited (four man) crew inside the cave for a limited amount of time (six shooting days, four hours per day) under, yes, limited conditions, confined to a two-foot wide walkway.

The results, however, are downright transporting. Few of us will have the opportunity to experience the Chauvet Cave first-hand, but I’m convinced Herzog’s film is the next best thing: carefully lingering over the extraordinary paintings, the cave floor, fossilized remains, watching light bounce off the cave walls, this is an incredibly rewarding and enlightening experience like no other.

And it’s all been filmed in 3D, which helps re-create the dimensionality of the cave; even though it’s an illusion, the cave is given a texture and feeling that would simply not have been possible in 2D. I’m not able to fully comment on the 3D projection (more on that below) but this is, like Wim Wenders’ Pina, another case of a director actually using 3D technology to enhance the storytelling, rather than a gimmick used for novelty value.

In-between the sequences inside the cave, Herzog conducts interviews with art historians, paleontologists, and other experts, and, of course, adds his thoughts via iconic narration. In some of the more memorable scenes, an (imitation) Paleolithic flute is used to play the Star-Spangled Banner (this brought down the house at my screening) and a rather unsuccessful spear-throwing demonstration is given.

A spiritual, captivating art history essay that connects the audience with their 30,000 year-old ancestors, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is fascinating stuff.

Original music by Ernst Reijseger is positively hypnotic. I could have easily spent the entire film touring un-narrated images of the Chauvet Cave with this music as my guide.

Side note: unfortunately, as much as I admire the film, I don’t feel I’m in the best position to comment on it. This is because of the fairly wretched 3D projection at Kino Lucerna, where I saw the movie last Monday. If you’ve been to Prague’s independent cinemas recently, you may have noticed the multitude of low-resolution advertisements playing before the features; here, the entire film was screened in what I can only describe as low-res.

It was almost as if the entire film was projected slightly out-of-focus. This was the first (and last, unless I hear good things) 3D screening I’ll attend at Lucerna (no complaints on their standard projection, though). My advice: catch Cave of Forgotten Dreams this weekend at Kino Atlas, which has (for my money) the best 3D projection in Prague.

One more note: Cave of Forgotten Dreams has a few extended scenes (maybe 15% of the film) in French, which are subtitled only in Czech on local screens.

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