Wednesday, November 30, 2011


One of Werner Herzog’s two documentaries this year, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, creates a space for wonder. How often are we allowed that in this day and age? This is a film that stretches out as a hushed visual reverie allowing for quiet reflection upon the deepest questions of the nature of mankind and the nature of art. The lovable eccentric German auteur received rare permission from the French government to enter the Chauvet caves in the south of France to film the oldest discovered cave paintings. Because of the fragile ecosystem within this ancient geographic formation, the cave is sealed off year round, only open for brief periods of time for a select group of researchers to spend fleeting moments gathering data. Herzog meets them and lets them speak to us in his typical style of allowing digressions and tangents to unravel with a charming patience. How else would we learn that one researcher was once a circus performer? Who else would find an archeologist who likes to dress up in caveman-style pelts and plays a handmade bone flute, the better to interact with the ancients? Who but Herzog would find it necessary to give us a scene with a man who uses his sense of smell to search for caves? The delightful oddities of these people add interest to the main attraction, which are most definitely the cave paintings themselves. Gorgeously preserved and shot in stunning 3D, which allows their contours and textures to extend towards and curve away from the audience with exciting depth, these paintings are shared to a wide audience in a stirring and enchanting style. These paintings have been preserved and explored in a way only filmmaking would allow. Herzog’s typically lovely narration, droll and inquisitive in his soft German accent, and a swirling choral score that seems to be bubbling up from the very souls of the ancient artists, help create the film’s successful atmosphere, an absorbing, endlessly fascinating window to the past.

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