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Paintings on the Wall: Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams takes you inside history 

Werner Herzog does French caving.

click to enlarge film_caves.jpg
Before watching Cave of Forgotten Dreams, I had never had the pleasure, or displeasure, depending on your opinion, of seeing a film directed by Werner Herzog. I was well aware of his contributions to cinema and have heard amazing things about his Grizzly Man doc. To prep me for my viewing of his most recent film I did, however, watch a YouTube video called Werner Herzog Reads Where's Waldo (Google it!). After this hilarious introduction, I felt prepared to view Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

For Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Herzog gained access and permission to film in the Chauvet Cave in southern France, from the French minister of culture. The caves, which were first explored at the end of 1994, feature the oldest known pictorial drawings by humankind. In order to preserve the drawings and the caves' pristine condition, the filmmakers were highly restricted and Herzog could only have three other people with him in the cave.

Confined to a two-foot-wide walkway, Herzog and the crew were limited by what equipment they could use, which affected the cinematography tremendously. Custom 3D cameras were built exclusively for the production with the hope that they would convey the contours and bulges in the cave walls. This is great to know, but when I sat down for my screening, I quickly realized that this showing was in standard, old-school 2D. Shots of the drawings on the cave walls often seemed too close to focus on, which likely can be attributed to the confined space and low lighting.

With a running time of 90 minutes, the film seemed like it could have showed the cave's beauty and mystery in a much shorter duration. While the whole point of the film is to show viewers a truly remarkable gem in natural history, the continued use of the imagery was repetitive throughout the film. Combined with the terrible accompanying music, it could be argued that the images lost their charm due to the repetition. The drawings themselves were phenomenal and looked like they could have been painted yesterday. The way the artists conveyed motion had a pre-cinema feel, and that alone might have made a 3D screening worthwhile.

Herzog has a style and methodology all his own, which provided some of the most interesting moments in the film. From his interaction with his interviewees (such as the juggler/unicyclist-turned archeologist) to his observations about a small human footprint alongside a wolf's track, Herzog connects and engages viewers in a personal way. It's likely that Herzog's images of early man's drawings will live on in your dreams alongside Where's Waldo.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

3 1/2 Stars

Written, directed, and starring
Werner Herzog

Rated G


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