Cave of Forgotten Dreams DVD
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Directed by Werner Herzog
Produced in 2010
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - European Film
An evocative film that takes us deep into the otherwise inaccessible Chauvet cave with its 32,000 year old artworks, this is the nearest thing to being there, says Milo Wakelin.
Discovered in 1994, the Chauvet Cave in Southern France is a repository of the earliest known examples of human art, dating back as early as 35,000 years. Sealed off for millennia, it contains a treasure trove of paintings that look as fresh and evocative as if they were painted yesterday.
Werner Herzog’s recent documentaries, such as Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of The World, have depicted facts stranger and more thrilling than any fiction, and given unprecedented access to this cave of curiosities, he does not disappoint. Cave of Forgotten Dreams features many of Herzog's characteristic indulgences, such as an interview with a master perfumer who claims to be able to detect caves using his sense of smell, interrupting an archaeologist to quiz him on his past life in a circus, and a bizarre meditation on radioactive albino crocodiles.
Indeed, Herzog’s tendency to look sideways at his subject is well-suited to this strange subterranean world whose many marvels include a bear skull overgrown with crystalline deposits, a drawing in which human and animal parts appear to intermingle, and a collage of handprints created by a single artist with a tell-tale crooked finger.
Technically, Herzog’s first (and, if the director is to be believed, last) foray into 3D is a mixed bag, alternating wildly between moments of pure wonder, and the sensation of being trapped in a fairground waltzer. This is partly down to practical necessity: due to the fragility of the cave environment - not to mention the build up of poisonous fumes - Herzog and a small team were granted access scant hours at a time, and limited only to the lighting and filming equipment they could carry.
A lesser director would have chosen to get to grips with 3D film-making under better conditions, but Herzog, given lemons, wades headlong into the lemonade. Nonetheless, the documentary’s many grainy hand-held sequences are a lurching, disorienting experience that may prove too much for audiences with delicate stomachs.
But there is also the sense that Herzog is purposefully manipulating the medium in order to confound viewers' sense of scale and perspective. The journey into the Chauvet Cave and its 35,000 years of human history is more than merely physical, and Herzog presents its crystal-encrusted interiors as a space in which dreams and memories, art and reality, time and space itself, have become confused.
In the end, Herzog's decision to capture cave art as a 3D art-form proves to be sound; in several sublime sequences he allows his cameras to slowly explore the contours of the cave walls, light and shadow playing over drawings which appear to move before your very eyes. It’s the nearest thing to being there, and this thought-provoking, meditative film transports you back to a world when humanity was young, and art was timeless.
Milo Wakelin on 21st September 2011
Author of 103 reviews
In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, director Werner Herzog once again takes us on an incredible adventure, deep into the Chauvet Cave in Southern France to see the 32,000-year-old Paleolithic paintings there.
Because overexposure could damage the paintings, which are the oldest known example of human artistic expression, access to the caves is strictly limited to a tiny number of scientists and archaeologists. However, Herzog was granted permission to film in the caves using special heatless lights, allowing the public to see the paintings for the first time. With typically engaging and idiosyncratic narration Herzog reflects on our primal desire to communicate and represent the world around us, evolution and our place within it, and ultimately what it means to be human.
Publisher: Revolver Entertainment
Length: 90 mins
Cat No: REVD2826
Format: DVD Colour