Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011)

Better than average

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on August 5, 2011 on tonymacklin.net.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a 30,000-year leap of faith.

Written, directed, and narrated by Werner Herzog, the intriguing documentary explores the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave in Southern France, which contains the oldest cave art ever discovered.

The Pied Piper of the cave is the imaginative, fanciful German filmmaker. He's on a flight of imagination as he and a crew -- limited to a total of four members -- explore and ponder the mystery and meaning of the Paleolithic wall paintings.

The cave was discovered December 18, 1994 by a private expedition headed by Jean-Marie Chauvet, whose name the cave now has.

The cave had been sealed by a slide so its drawings had remained pristine. As Herzog says, "The cave is like the frozen flesh of a moment in time."

Cave of Forgotten Dreams depends on trust and imagination. Much of the interpretation of the evidence is guesswork.

"Seems" is the key word in the film. Line after line uses it: "might have seemed," "seems almost," "painters seem."

One expert declares, "You have to imagine." Herzog says, "Could it be?"

It's all cavernous guesswork.

Herzog enlivens his movie with an odd assemblage of experts. One scientist was a circus juggler, another plays The Star-Spangled Banner on a bone flute, a spear-thrower is erratic, and a perfumer sniffs the odor in the cave but can't smell much. Where was Pepe Le Pew?

Herzog includes a clip of Fred Astaire dancing with his shadows from Swing Time (1936). The cave is a merry mausoleum of motion.

Herzog is hardly consistent. He says, "We're listening to silence in the cave." Then the entire sequence is accompanied with heavy string music. So much for silence.

The intrusive music throughout by Ernst Reijseger interrupts the bliss. It blunts our senses.

After the musical "silence" we hear the sound of a heartbeat. Herzog asks, "Is this their heartbeat or ours?"

The film has a postscript which introduces contemporary albino crocodiles supposedly effected by a nearby nuclear power plant.

Herzog, after tiptoeing through the transforming cave, says, "Nothing is real. Nothing is certain."

As an artist, Werner Herzog seems to like it that way.


You might be interested in reading my most recent reviews, all of my reviews from this year, or all of my reviews from last year.

For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).


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