Review: Cave Of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

Cave Of Forgotten Dreams is a new piece of filmmaking examining the recently discovered – and strictly preserved – Chauvet Cave in France, and is directed by Werner Herzog: a visionary renowned for his love of uncovering the unknown.

Herzog, whose prior left-field works include Encounters At The End Of The World and Grizzly Man, personally approached the French culture minister, Frederic Mitterand, who authorised unprecedented yet severely restricted access to the rapturous Chauvet Cave where Paleolithic drawings of a multitude of mammals have been left untouched for up to 32,000 years.

To enhance the experience, Herzog finds a refreshing alternative use for 3D technology. He collaborates with Peter Zeitlinger to show us the inside of the cave system in a remarkably bold and accessible approach, as well as displaying the many mammals that embellish the walls in all their three-dimensional glory by highlighting their realistic characteristics through long, slow and beautifully accentuating camera movements.

Herzog is clearly a director who – rather than administering it unnecessarily in the hope it will add something to a scene, shot or effect – is very careful about using the new fangled technology to the best of its ability.

It’s a very clever tactic, and works wonders to transport us, the viewer, into the eerie depths of the cave system, giving us a better appreciation of the paintings and how the artists that composed them managed to make them blend harmoniously – and three dimensionally – with the cave’s natural milieu.

Herzog is clearly a director who – rather than administering it unnecessarily in the hope it will add something to a scene, shot or effect – is very careful about using the “newfangled” technology to its fullest potential.

His extremely majestic use of cinematography not only enhances the contours of the artwork and the walls which they inhabit, but also suggestively mirrors the ways in which the artists used their environment. Lighting and positioning were clearly important, and Herzog employs both to accentuate specific renderings.

It’s marvellous to see Herzog achieve so much under extremely limited equipment (two cameras and several handheld, battery-operated lighting devices) and severe time restrictions.

By interviewing various expert scientists and archeologists throughout, Herzog – in his own eccentric and enthralling way – is able to provide an incredible, decidedly realistic interpretation of the artists.

Upon leaving the cave and encountering various contrasting unnatural consequences of modern man’s interactions with nature, Herzog is able to pose a number of outlandish and ponderous questions, such as those regarding humanity, in a way that will undoubtedly leave you entangled in the subject matter for days.

Cave Of Forgotten Dreams may not be to everyone’s tastes, but there’s no doubt it’s a compelling, questioning and pensive piece of filmaking from a prophetic director showing that, even in the earliest millennia of our civilisation, our ancestors were driven by the same impulses that compel us to create art in the modern age.

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