Cave of Forgotten Dreams Review
Cave of Forgotten Dreams represents Werner Herzog’s tenth foray into full length documentary filmmaking and his first to be presented in 3D. This time the subject is that of the recently discovered Chauvet Cave in Southern France, home to the earliest known cave paintings.
Since its discovery in 1994 the cave has been unavailable to the public, with Herzog given special dispensation to film the caves with a small crew. The result is a remarkable tour of paintings and impressions, perfectly preserved from over 30,000 years ago. The detail and skill of the artworks are astounding, as are the way they are presented. From the outset, it is made clear the restrictive conditions under which the filmmakers are required to work, including a minimal film crew, a two-foot wide metal gangway, on which they may walk, and the use of four portable light panels.
These limitations occasionally hamper the impact of the visual images, however Herzog and his crew posses the technical ability and resourcefulness to largely negate these disadvantages. The spotlight effect of the light panels provides a fittingly atmospheric sense, at times claustrophobic, as well as helping to focus on specific aspects of the painting. A partially viewable depiction of a bull and the lower half of a female body, the only human image in the cave, is cleverly accessed with the use of a mounted camera.
It may be seen by some as something of a surprise that it was Herzog who was allowed access to this French treasure, rather than a French filmmaker. As the documentary progresses it becomes clear that there are few other artists capable of presenting this wonder with the insight and human interest of the German director. It is in exploring the human story that the film finds its true success. The extensive interviews of those currently working on the cave display a passion as well as providing a necessary context to the importance of the artwork and those who may have created it.
The film has also proved to be Herzog’s most successful documentary at the UK box office. Taking over £400,000 in its first 24 days of UK release, it has shown there is clearly an appetite for the use of 3D in art house filmmaking, as demonstrated with Wim Wenders’ recent dance documentary “Pina”. Of course the paramount importance of the documentary is the depiction of the paintings, so there is a concern that it is somewhat compromised by the use of 3D. It is questionable whether a film of this nature requires the use of 3D technology at the expense of the dulled image in comparison with 2D.
Ultimately, Herzog offers an intriguing window into a forgotten world, beautifully portrayed and expressed with a fascinating insight into a human tale of past and present.