Film Review: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

Werner Herzog and a small team of filmmakers were granted extremely limited and rare access to shoot a 3D documentary inside the French Chauvet Pont-d’Arc cave. Dating back over 32,000 years, the cave is surrounded by previously undiscovered ancient paintings of animals on its walls from the Paleolithic era. The art works are so rare and the cave is so hazardous that nothing can be touched and it can only be occupied for a few hours at a time.

Recently inhabited (since 1994) by scientists who have been tracking its geological roots, Herzog’s exploration is simply breathtaking and mesmerising. The exclusive look was granted by the French Minister for Culture and was inspired after Herzog read about the Chauvet Cave in The New Yorker.

Both science and culture are melded together wonderfully in the examination of the cave. The science (speleology specifically) is expansive and is shown particularly well with an impressive computer graphic that details thousands of the cave’s coordinates. Interviews with the scientists who study the cave also are idiosyncratic and prove to be a wealthy source of valuable information.

The art works are interestingly dissected regarding their style and impact. Their authenticity, which could be easily doubted, is cleverly contended by the scientists. Some of the most fascinating paintings feature a notion of the moving image whereby several versions of the same animal have been painted in close proximity highlighting movement.

Herzog proves to be a very amiable filmmaker with subtle narration and genuine affection for the cave evident in one scene where visible tear lines mark his face. His fascination with the Chauvet cave allowed for its rare documenting and the filmed footage is of great cultural and historical significance.

To be honest, I’m not a fan of 3D technology in film. But perhaps I should be more frank in my discussion. As a whole, I find that the technology is still in its infancy, despite being a resurgent technology. However, films like Cave of Forgotten Dreams show how the technology should be properly utilised. By actually filming in 3D and having subject matter that is indefinitely enhanced by the technology, I am starting to warm to the 3D idea with much enthusiasm. As the footage shot is both rare and exclusive, 3D provides the audience with a chance to absorb the dimensions of the cave. Art connoisseurs and cinema audiences worldwide should leap at the generous opportunity to engage with Herzog’s brilliant masterpiece.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is in limited release through Rialto Distribution in Australia.


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