Today: June 22, 2024

Cave of Forgotten Dreams Cinema Review

By Jamie Steiner

When Werner Herzog revealed his next project would be
utilising 3D technology, the announcement caused some consternation among his
fan base; it appeared an uncharacteristically ‘mainstream ‘ direction to be
heading, the format still desperately trying to shrug off suspicions regarding
value for money and the debris from James Cameron’s Avatar

So far, the biggest problem concerning 3D has been placing
it within an appropriate context, the majority of films that have adopted often
visibly struggling to negotiate means and ways to produce successively more
impressive visual tricks, a reliance which inevitably sidelines narrative in
preference of spectacle. It is, therefore, to Werner Herzog’s credit that he
dare incorporate such a sophisticated tool for such simple ends, much of the
films composed of static takes and flat close-ups, reuniting content and form
into reasonably happy harmony.

The Bavarian’s struggles have downsized somewhat over the
years: once upon a time he was lugging entire ships over mountains, now he
heads in the opposite direction, specially modifying his equipment to crawl
into the narrow spaces of the Chauvet caves, whose discovery unearthed the
earliest human ‘art’ dating back 32,000 years. If these treasures were not
astonishing in themselves, strewn across the cave’s floor were scattered
remains of the now extinct cave bear, several other species and fully formed
human footprints, perfectly preserved by the unique conditions which have so
far enabled their survival. Spread amongst footage of the cave are interviews
with several members of the team (one a former circus performer), many of whom
are the typically entertaining sort of characters one has come to expect from a
Herzog film. Particular highlights are a perfumer attempting to find new caves
with only his bulbous nose and an experimental archaeologist who plays Star
Spangled Banner on a Neolithic flute.

The existence of Cave Of Forgotten Dreams is justified
solely by its subject: no tourist shall ever be permitted into the Chauvet
caves, a lesson cruelly learnt from the Lascaux caves where decades of human
breath has almost rendered it destroyed. For many, this will provide the
greatest intrigue, the uniqueness of the experience a tremendous pulling factor.
Whether or not Herzog’s booming narration and roster of devices (religious
chanting, meditations on dreaming, eccentric characters) will enthral either
existing fans or new cinemagoers is less certain, certain recurring themes
beginning to edge towards pastiche and cliché.

In the ‘Post-Script’ to COFD, we’re taken to a mysterious bio-sphere located a few miles from the
Chauvet caves, a vast greenhouse structure which houses thousands of tropical
plants and a growing population of crocodiles (actually alligators and not in
any way mutant as suggested), among them some albinos. It is a surreal sequence
in which two albino alligators meet their doppelgangers, Herzog questioning
whether we are in fact now the ‘crocodiles looking back’. The film’s weakest moment,
despite the beautiful photography, it is a rather pointless and philosophically
vacuous segment that just about relates to the rest of the film.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
still counts as a great triumph, even if the body of the work was completed 32,000
years ago. Together with Herzog’s trademark enquiries and world vision, he has
moulded a fascinating documentary which, like every good film of his, leaves
you wanting to see his next.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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