The title might sound a mite pretentious, but watch documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog’s The Cave of Forgotten Dreams and you’re likely to emerge entirely convinced of the veracity of those words.
Herzog landed one hell of a find: access to a cave in Southern France decorated with remarkably well preserved 32,000 year-old drawings. The Chauvet Cave — named after explorer Jean-Marie Chauvet, who discovered it in 1994 — houses the world’s oldest cave paintings, many of them illustrations of animals. One drawing depicts multiple outlines of a horse, presented as if it were in motion. Herzog ambitiously describes this as a kind of “proto-cinema.”
The film is mostly based in the cave and occasionally detours into side topics. Herzog views the cave as a sacrosanct spiritual haven, describing it in his unmistakable voice as “the beginnings of the modern human soul.” A bit much, perhaps, but Herzog gets away with head in the clouds commentary right until the end, when an ambitious ramble about albino crocodiles rings in the ears like the wobbly words of a starry-eyed daydreamer deflecting madness.
The Cave of Forgotten Dreams will be screened in 3D in most cinemas, and arguably, given the shapes and contours of the cave and the inaccessibility of the setting, it’s a justified use of the format. And yet it’s another film that spells out 3D’s shortcomings: dimness, loss of clarity, loss of sharpness. But the medium’s shortcomings aren’t nearly corrosive enough to quash the eery beauty of Herzog’s quasi-mystical archeological venture.
The Cave of Forgotten Dreams’s Australian theatrical release date: September 22, 2011.