I first saw this film at the San Francisco International Film Festival last April. Even those of us who would like to see in person the plethora of vibrant and profound cave wall paintings so recently discovered at Chauvet Cave in France may never have the opportunity. The French Ministry of Culture is protecting this precious site by closing it to the public and only rarely allowing scientists, geologists, archeologist, and ethnologists to enter. Werner Herzog understood the privilege he was afforded by being allowed to film this prehistoric cave with a very small crew and for only 4 hours a day for 6 days. This will be the most important legacy of his career. And to make us feel even more present in the cave, he shot it in 3D. Don’t expect action or things being flung toward the camera. The effect was not used to startle or dramatize, but to give the viewing audience the most lifelike feeling.
To understand the groundbreaking discovery of human’s pictorial interpretation of the world around them portrayed in this cave, compare: the well-known Lascaux cave paintings were made around 17,300 years ago; the art work (and it is) at Chauvet is estimated to be over 30,000 years old. Textbooks will be rewritten due to this find. And it is appropriate that once documented and studied, the cave should be sealed. There were so many tourists visiting Lascaux over the years, their breath contributed mold in the atmosphere which is now destroying the murals. The same damage should not happen in Chauvet.
Herzog gives context to this artistic discovery by interviewing anthropologists and other authorities about the life of these paleolithic people in the then-ice-age environment surrounding the cave. Do not miss this one opportunity to be amazed by the artistry and perhaps soul of paleolithic man.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Director: Werner Herzog
Writers: Werner Herzog, Judith Therman
Time: 90 min.
Opening May 6 at the Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco