Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Year: 2010
Production Co: Creative Differences
Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: Werner Herzog
Cast: Werner Herzog

I'm not too sure what I'd say if you asked me what sort of films Werner Herzog makes. I'd tell you he used to do challenging arthouse dramas with Klaus Kinski, few of which I've seen but the shadows of which loom large over alternative film culture. I would never have said he was a likely candidate to make a documentary of the oldest known discovered record of human artistic endeavour.

When a landslide in rural Chauvet, France in 1994 opened up a series of caves, the government and scientific community knew they had something special. Art on the walls drawn by prehistoric humans dates back to more than 30,000 years ago, earlier than the more famous cave paintings at Lascaux.

Narrating the film in his sonorous, calming tones, Herzog explains how the site is off limits to the general public after the damage years of tourism has wrought at Lascaux. The institutions responsible have set up a steel walkway throughout the system and applied strict limits on the type and strength of the equipment that can be used. Human hands are forbidden from touching anything apart from the steel path.

So Herzog takes his miniscule crew and a handful of lights and cameras and in between some talking heads that give context we amble at a snail's pace through the system.

He explains the significance of the paintings and artifacts, pointing out features that are invisible to the lay person and some of the challenges involved in seeing some of the notable features while adhering to the restrictions. In one sequence, we're treated to the first ever glimpse around the back of a figurine that lays only a few feet away from the path.

I saw it on the tiny armrest screen of a plane, but most people saw it in 3D, and this would have been one of those films the format served well – at times the camera is only millimeters away from the surfaces and you get a real sense of the scales involved.

If you have any interest in either anthropology or the intricacies of filmmaking in controlled environments you'll find it fascinating.

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